Alfred Rankley was one of the leading Victorian exponents of historical and domestic genre. Trained at the Royal Academy Schools, he exhibited at the RA for thirty years as well as supporting the British Institution and the Royal Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street. His best-known work is probably Old Schoolfellows, shown at the RA in 1855 and in the collection of Victorian genre paintings formed by the late Sir David Scott prior to that collection's dispersal in 2008.
A Benediction, or The Widow and the Fatherless, as it was called when sold in these Rooms in 1906, was Rankley's last picture to be shown at the RA, appearing in 1871, a year before his death at the age of fifty-three. Like Old Schoolfellows, it exemplifies the aspect of his work that was singled out for praise in his obituary in the Art Journal: the ability to project 'some good and wholesome moral ... without any forced or vapid sentiment'. All his pictures, the writer concludes, 'were directed to awaken dormant sympathy in favour of what is kindly in feeling and "of good report".'