After a period spent working in Antwerp and Brittany, Walter Osborne painted a series of genre pictures, featuring working or country children, with domestic pets, in Ireland and England in the mid 1880s. These are key works in his career, but until recently have been comparatively little-known. Perhaps because of their very attractiveness, they were bought immediately at exhibition, or quickly entered private collections. However, several of these have reappeared in recent years. These pictures include A Boy with his dog circa 1895-8 (Sotheby's, London, 16 May 1996, lot 446), Cupboard Love, 1886 (private collection), Primary Education, circa 1885 (Sotheby's, London, 2 June 1995, lot 279) and Spoilt Pets, 1886 (Sotheby's, London, 2 June 1995, lot 267) and the present painting A New Arrival. In each picture a sort of 'dialogue' is set up between the children and their pets.
The pictures are characterised by the artist's compassion for children, his affection for animals, his interest in still-life objects, and are painted with an intense Realism, derived from the example of Bastien-Lepage, and some of Osborne's English contemporaries.
Being the son of an accomplished animal painter, William Osborne, Walter also became highly skilled at painting pet dogs and cats, and he realised that there was a market for such pictures. He was not afraid to show sentiment, and his titles, such as A New Arrival suggest a narrative quality. However, Osborne eschews the overly sentimental or literary quality of much Victorian genre painting, and displays a more down-to-earth, realistic approach, and a mood of gentleness.
A New Arrival is a fine example of this genre. It shows a pretty girl in a blue pinafore feeding a fluffy tortoiseshell cat with a saucer of milk. The room, with its grandfather clock and side-board suggests a modest sitting room or 'parlour', but the girl's ragged clothes indicate that she is a kitchen maid or farm girl. Her figure is skillfully placed within the composition, her arms forcing a graceful circle in which the cat is protected. Osborne draws the figure carefully, but the girl's face and hands are robustly painted, suggesting a hard-working but healthy life.
Traces of the 'square-brush style', which Osborne had used the previous year, are evident in parts of the picture, but generally he makes use of more varied and expressive paintwork, perhaps influenced by his use of pastel, to convey the frayed clothing of the girl. In this genre series Osborne always includes still-life objects, particularly rustic pottery vessels, to add a point of focus, a touch of colour, and simply to convey his pleasure in representing the physical objects in paint. Here, the white and blue saucer, the jug, and the pink and white cup, and the daffodils in a glass, are exquisitely painted. The prints on the walls complete the composition.
Osborne appears to have used a warm brown under-ground on the canvas, upon which the colours are built up. The overall palette is low-keyed, but the pale blues of the girl's garment and the saucer, the whites of the cat's nose and the rim of the cup, and the yellow and orange of the daffodils are harmoniously balanced. The tortoiseshell fur of the cat is skillfully painted.
In his sketch-book (National Gallery of Ireland, p. 3, no. 4). Osborne made a small pen and ink drawing of A New Arrival, and recorded its title and measurements.
Amongst the companion pictures in the series, Primary Education shows a boy feeding a tame jackdaw while a terrier looks on and Cupboard Love, which shows a boy seated at a table eating while a black cat sits on the table watching him. There are also echoes of A New Arrival in Osborne's pastel Girl with daffodils, 1888 (private collection).
We are very grateful to Dr Julian Campbell for providing the catalogue entry for above lot.