Saturday, August 21, 2010

Robert Carrick - Weary Life

Price Realized £20,315

signed 'R Carrick' (lower right) and signed and inscribed 'Weary Life/Robt. Carrick' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40 x 32¼ in. (101.6 x 81.9 cm.)

London, Royal Academy, 1858, no. 300.

Praised by Ruskin in his Academy Notes of 1858 as 'A notable picture; very great in many respects' this painting attracted much critical attention when first exhibited, and much popular acclaim. Ruskin found fault with the light, the lack of drama in the background, the expression of the girl's face, and the over-definition of some parts of the painting, but concluded: 'The picture is, however, so beautiful, in spite of all these defects, that it becomes almost the duty of the painter to perfect it'. Carrick took Ruskin's criticisms to heart, and returned the cheque for the painting which Vokins, the dealer, had given him. He promised only to take it once certain alterations had been made.

On hearing this Ruskin wrote from Italy: 'I'm sorry, and yet glad that Carrick behaved so nobly about his picture. I don't see that he need have given back his cheque, as I conceive a dealer's price is always intended to take the risk on either side, and that an artist, as he has no right to complain if the dealer doubles profit, so neither need he make restitution if the chance turns the other way. However, if artists always acted as Carrick has done, dealers would soom come to allow them a share in rise of price, which would be the just way for all parties'.
There can be few more telling incidents of Ruskin's influence on those who exhibited at the Royal Academy in the 1850s or how his 'trenchant self-assertion' not only altered the creation of the pictures themselves, but also helped mould popular taste.

Ruskin also admired Carrick's Thoughts of the Future, his RA exhibit of 1857. Despite exhibiting at the RA from several London addresses, Carrick made his name from such scenes of rustic genre and a keen sympathy for the tired and oppressed pervades his work. In this he pre-empts the social realist painters of later decades, and it is interesting to note how the Art Journal while acknowledging the 'cunning manipulation' and 'coup de théatre' of the figures sensed its social conscience pricked, and for this reason found the depiction of an exhausted itinerant acrobat and his daughter 'not an agreeable one'.

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