Born in London in 1847, Frederick Morgan was the eldest child of the artist John Morgan R.B.A. (1822-1885). He received his first artistic training from his father, but was then encouraged by his mother to find work in the City of London as she was concerned that the life of an artist was too precarious. This foray into business did not last long, and young Frederick returned to his family house at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. He found work there and for three years was a portrait painter for a local photographer. In the early 1870s he began to exhibit at the Royal Academy and the art dealers Messrs. Agnew & Son became his primary patron. Morgan's early works were more oriented towards social realism, but as his style developed he began to concentrate almost entirely on sympathetic portrayals of children. By the 1880s there was an increasing demand for such works and along with Arthur Elsley his works became well-known among the Victorian middle classes. He was a founding member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1883, exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1865 and 1919 and exhibited internationally at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878 and the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
Childhood became an enormously popular theme in art during the 19th Century, and many of Britain's most talented artists chose to depict its various aspects, from impoverished orphans to exquisitely-dressed rosy-cheeked paragons of purity and sweetness. As Susan Casteras writes, 'the Victorian period marked the beginning of a new awareness of the supposedly golden period of childhood. The Victorians ultimately seemed proud to show off their offspring. This pride was part of a pervasive reinforcement of middle-class values of family, respectability, morality and segregated gender roles. These concepts, and the paintings that embody them, may today strike viewers as a dream of the past, replete with nostalgic and escapist visions, but they are deeply revealing of the period when they were produced and viewed with such sincerity and conviction' (The Forbes Collection, Christie's, London, 19 & 20 February 2003, vol. II, p. 39).
The present work is a charming example of Morgan's ability to capture the innocence and simplicity of the Victorian childhood. Three small children gaily engage in a game of 'Bob Apple' which is orchestrated by their older sister. The glee apparent on the faces of the two older children is a clear indication that they are fully enjoying this very simple and amusing game. Morgan, in a letter to his publishers Messrs. Harry Graves & Co, dated March 21, 1907, writes about this painting, 'In reply to your letter asking details about my picture 'Bob Apple' - I thought of this subject while staying at a very old-fashioned and out of the way village - Winterton, Norfolk, which lies on the coast 10 miles north of Yarmouth. The young girl and children were natives of the village and belonged to old Norfolk fisher families - they were jolly healthy specimens who thoroughly entered into the spirit of the game - the apple orchards around the village are famous for good yields. Winterton is known for large caches of along shore herrings - also as the landing place of Robinson Crusoe on his first voyage - and lastly as the house of Mrs. Hume - ne Nelson, direct descendant of Lord Nelson.'