A jury has gathered in the room behind the law court, and are due to announce their verdict, but are hindered by the stoical refusal of one member, who is deaf, to append his ear-trumpet to his ear and so respond to their summons. His verdict is key to their adjudication, and they physically assail him with evidence of the passing of time, gesturing at fob watches and beseeching him with expressions of frustration and concern.
O'Neill's painting belongs to a strong tradition of genre painting which probed the workings of the establishment. In an age when social and political legislation intensified, and public services were overhauled, the spectre of authority became more present in the life of civilians. The guardians of public welfare - whether in education, the church or the law - appeared in literature and art alike, and the occasional hypocrisy within these institutions was exposed. Whilst Hogarth, Rowlandson, and Gilray were explicit in their satire, nineteenth-century painters wove satire more subtly into narrative painting.
O'Neill adheres particularly to the example of Wilkie and Mulready. Both artists made scenes from everyday life an appropriate subject for exhibited art. Their native tact was sometimes tempered with more derisive humour. Here O'Neill turns his attention to the public themselves, rather than the legal establishment. Although both admirable and necessary, the practical shortcomings of gathering together a disparate group to adjudicate a case are made evident in O'Neill's representation.
Like Dickens and Trollope, O'Neill obtains his comic effect by emphasising variety of human type: the contrast between the sleepy defector and more didactic others, for example. The picture's irony derives from the fact that such chaos can exist behind the doors of the most august of institutions.
The picture was atypical for the artist, whose work usually exhibits a defiantly pretty, even nostalgic, aesthetic. O'Neill was a member of the Cranbrook Colony, an informal group who spent summers working in this Kent village. Often featuring women and children clad in historical dress, their art depicted the beamed interiors of Tudor houses local to the area, and has remained consistently popular.
A Jury demonstrates O'Neill's expertise as a painter of detailed interior scenes, evoking the Dutch Masters. He creates a varied perspective by incorporating angles and a doorway. The light is gentle and pertinent, falling upon the central figure of the procrastinator.
This robust character raises a more serious, general, point. In his failure to deliver a verdict, or respond, he represents in wider terms the dissenter within a council. By exaggerating the expressions of his companions - who rely upon visual effect - O'Neill highlights the tension that can prevail between group and individual in any context.