In the second Book of The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan's allegory in the English puritan tradition, Christian's wife Christiana sets out on her own pilgrimage and retraces the steps of her husband. It is to this second book that Payne turned for the subject matter of the present watercolour.
Where Blake had illustrated the moment of conflict in Christian's journey through the Valley of Humiliation, showing his apocalyptic battle with sin in the monstrous form of Appollyon (Frick Collection, New York), Payne depicts the Valley as a place of peace. Christiana descends into the Valley and finds a boy sitting by himself singing:
'He that is down, need fear no fall,
He that is low, no pride:
He that is humble, ever shall
Have God to be his guide.'
In Payne's representation of the scene, this child of humility sits beneath a tree and surveys a rolling, fertile plain which, far from 'noise and confusion', is described by Christiana's guide as a place where men have met with angels and found the 'words of life'.
Payne studied at the Birmingham School of Art and later taught there, becoming a central member of the Birmingham Group, a circle of artists who worked in the tradition of Burne-Jones and were committed to the Arts and Crafts Movement. As such he worked in a range of media, running a stained-glass practice, and painting a mural for the Palace of Westminster. He also worked in oils, and The Enchanted Sea was sold Sotheby's, New York, 26 May 1994 ($167,500). Later in life he painted a number of pastoral landscapes, of which The Wild Ducks (exhibited London, Barbican Art Gallery, The Last Romantics, 9 February-9 April 1999, no. 84) and the present watercolour are fine examples.