Thomas Brooks (British, 1818-1891)
Thomas Brooks (British, 1818-1891)

Relenting 'The silence of pure innocence persuades, where speaking fails' (William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale)

Thomas Brooks (British, 1818-1891)
Relenting 'The silence of pure innocence persuades, where speaking fails' (William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale)
signed and dated 'T. Brooks 1855' (lower left); inscribed with title and the artist's address (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
34 x 46 in. (86.4 x 116.8 cm.)
Painted in 1855.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 17 November 1971, lot 129.
with Frost & Reed, London.
with Christopher Wood, London.
Edmund J. and Suzanne McCormick, acquired from the above in 1980.
Their sale; Sotheby's, New York, 28 February 1990, lot 135.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Susan P. Casteras, 'An Exhibition Review of The Blessed Damozel', The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, vol. 2, November 1981, p. 142. Grace Glueck, 'Gallery View', The New York Times, February 12, 1984, pp. 33, 35, (illustrated).
Susan P. Casteras, Images of Victorian Womanhood in English Art, London and Toronto, 1987, pp. 123-4, (illustrated).
Michelle Marder Kamhi, 'Victorian Treasures: Paintings from the McCormick Collection', Aristos, The Journal of Esthetics, vol. 3, no. 4, March 1987, p. 4, (illustrated).
Susan P. Casteras, Virtue Rewarded, Louisville, 1988, p. 42.
London, Royal Academy, 1855, no. 1314.
London, Christopher Wood, The Blessed Damozel: Women and Children in Victorian Art, 1980, no. 6 (illustrated).
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, The Substance or the Shadow: Images of Victorian Womanhood, 1982, pp. 36, 63-4, pl. 25, (illustrated).
Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum, English Idylls: The Edmund J. and Suzanne McCormick Collection (Susan P. Casteras, ed.), 1984, pp. 26-7, no. 5, (illustrated).
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, From Queen to Empress: Victorian Dress 1837-1877, 1988, p. 71, (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Brooks specialized in scenes of 'social realism' designed to prick the conscience of the nation. The narrative can be read through the accumulation of visual clues. A landlord has come with his clerk to make an inventory of the possessions of a poor widow who has fallen behind with her rent. He is considering evicting her and her family. Her husband, a military officer, whose portrait and sword hang above the chimneypiece, has recently been killed in the Crimea. (A black- edged letter of condolence is tucked behind the frame). The widow, dressed in mourning, is trying to support her family through sewing. She has already pawned her late husband's watch: the watchcase stands empty above the grate. There too is medicine for her eldest daughter, whose health has been compromised by the dampness of the garret. Contemporary audiences, accustomed to the novels of Dickens, would have been again reminded how quickly their fortunes could turn and their gentility be lost.

There is reason to hope that in this instance, however, all will be well. The plant in the window-sill has managed to flower. There is a fire in the grate, and the kettle is emitting a comforting hiss of steam. Brooks has appended to his title lines from Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, which originally refered to the infant Perdita's separation from her mother owing to her father's decree, but is here used to articulate the landlord's thoughts, as his gaze is directed to the new-born infant, a posthumous child, sleeping by the fire.

Thomas Brooks was born in Hull, and studied under Henry Perronet Briggs. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1843 and 1882, and also showed at the British Institution and Suffolk Street.

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