Landseer first visited the Scottish Highlands in 1824, returning many times. In the early to mid-1830s he painted several domestic interior scenes set in Highland cottages; most small ‘oil on panel’ paintings, like this example. The Victoria and Albert Museum owns a similar work titled ‘A Highland Breakfast’ (c.1834), showing a young mother suckling her child, while dogs breakfast from a large bowl. A similar couple to the figures in this work are also seen in Landseer’s ‘Highland Scene’ (c.1834) at the Wallace Collection, London and the same models may have sat for all three paintings.
Landseer painted this work for art collector and patron John Sheepshanks (who also owned ‘A Highland Breakfast’). In correspondence with the artist of 1840, Sheepshanks referred to the painting as the ‘highland holy family’. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842, the Royal Society of Birmingham Artists in 1858 and at the Academy’s memorial exhibition of Landseer's work in 1874. A study for the mother and child was included in Landseer's studio sale. Also, an engraving of the work by Welsh engraver Benjamin Phelps Gibbon was published in 1846 and another by Charles Mottram was published in 1858.
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, animal painter, was born in Marylebone, London, the son of engraver John Landseer. He was initially trained by his father and first exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of 13. In 1816, he entered Royal Academy schools. Between 1839 and 1866 Landseer made several paintings of Queen Victoria, the Prince Consort and their children. However, today he is best known for painting ‘Monarch of the Glen’ (exhibited in 1851) and designing the bronze lions at the foot of Nelson's Monument in Trafalgar Square (1859-66). In 1850, Landseer accepted a knighthood. In 1865 he declined the Presidency of the Royal Academy. Landseer died at the age of 71 and was buried at St Paul's Cathedral in London.
Commissioned by John Sheepshanks; collection of manufacturer and art patron Edwin Bullock (1787-1870) of Hawthorn House, Handsworth, Birmingham; by whose executors sold through Christie’s, London, on 21 May 1870 (Lot 139), for £1050.0.0; from which sale purchased by Agnew’s Gallery, London; collection of Octavius Edward Coope of Rotchetts, South Weald, near Brentwood, Essex by 1874; by whose executors sold through Christie's, London, ‘Ancient and Modern Pictures & Water Colour Drawings’ sale, on 6 May 1910, (Lot 17), for £304.10; from which sale purchased by ‘Lister’; collection of Lord Normanton; with Spink & Son Limited by 1951; from whom purchased by Colnaghi, London, on 21 May 1952; from whom purchased by the Ministry of Works on 4 February 1954
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