The Hireling Shepherd


William Holman Hunt 1827-1910
 Oil on canvas

In a letter to the Gallery, Hunt said that his first object 
had been to paint a real shepherd and shepherdess 
‘and a landscape in full sunlight,
with all the colours of luscious summer’,
 but he also used it to highlight problems in the Church.

The Bible tells how the ‘hireling’ shepherd does not
 care for his flock the way a true shepherd does.
 Here the hired help flirts with a young lady
about a silly superstition of a death’s head moth,
 while the sheep stray into the corn and become ‘blown’.
 The shepherd is likened to the clergy at the time,
 who neglect their pastoral duties 
in favour of more high-flown ideals.

Hunt used an innovative painting technique,
 achieving astonishing clarity and brilliance 
by painting over a wet, white ground.
 His bright colours and unflinching realism
 were as shocking to the public 
as was the perceived ‘coarse’ nature of the couple.



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