Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Masterpiece of the Week: “And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878

And When Did ou Last See Your Father
William Frederick Yeames, 1878
The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

One of the most famous and beloved works in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, is William Frederick Yeames’ emotional 1878 painting, And When Did You Last See Your Father? The painting represents a fictional scene from The English Civil War wherein the country estate of a well-heeled Royalist family has been invaded by Parliamentarian forces. The authorities, believing in the honesty and innocence of children, question the smallest member of the household who is faced with the dilemma of having to lie or send his father to certain death.

A wax tableau of the painting in Madame Tussauds, London

Yeames, the son of the British ambassador to Russia, studied art in Italy and returned to England where he helped form an association of artists known as The St. John’s Wood Clique. Unlike many groups of artists, the members of The Saint John’s Wood Clique preferred traditional and upscale pursuits over a bohemian lifestyle. Yeames, like his companions, specialized in historical subjects and British themes. Yeames’ goal with this painting, as with most of his works, was to create what he called a “Problem Picture” wherein a paradox or difficult moral decision was posed to the viewer of the painting.And When Did You Last See Your Father? was instantly a social triumph, inspiring a popular song in 1890 and becoming the subject of a wax tableau which is still displayed at Madame Tussauds in London. 

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