Topologies of Tenderness and Violence

Human–animal relations in Georgian England

Authored by: Carl Griffin

The Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138193260
eBook ISBN: 9780429468933
Adobe ISBN:


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First shown at the Royal Academy in 1853, William Holman Hunt’s Pre-Raphaelite oil-on-canvas masterpiece Our English Coasts (Figure 14.1) depicts a flock of sheep perched perilously close to the edge of the cliffs at Fairlight Glen, Sussex. Notwithstanding that it was commissioned by Charles Theobald Maud on having been impressed by Hunt’s representation of sheep in his 1851 painting The Hireling Shepherd, the sheep are at once the figurative stars of Our English Coasts and yet absent. It was read as a satire of the supposedly defenceless English coastline against a feared invasion from despotic, expansionist Napoleon III, the sheep visual metaphors for feebleness, English lambs to the French slaughter. The original frame also bore the inscription ‘The Lost Sheep’, and when exhibited in Paris in 1855 the painting was retitled Strayed Sheep, both explicit biblical allusions. Other critics saw not metaphor, nor sheep, but were wowed by Hunt’s treatment of light. As Ruskin saw it, ‘for the first time in the history of art [it depicted], the absolutely faithful balances of colour and shade by which actual sunlight might be transposed’. 1

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