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John Linnell, 1792–1882, British

Shepherd Boy Playing a Flute

Former Title(s):

Shepherd Boy

A Sheperd Boy with a Dog


Oil on panel
Support (PTG): 9 x 6 1/2 inches (22.9 x 16.5 cm)

Signed and dated, lower left: "[J l...ell] [date illegible ??]

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
boy | costume | country | dog (animal) | fipple flute | genre subject | hat | instrument | music | pastoral | recorder | shepherd | staff (staff weapon component) | trees
Not on view

John Linnell purchased a copy of Robert Bloomfield’s “The Farmer's Boy: A Rural Poem” (1800) around 1815 (Story, 1982, p. 79). A self-taught “Peasant Poet,” Bloomfield was also known as “The Suffolk Poet” for his commemoration of agricultural life in that area. He acknowledged the tedium and anxiety of living off the land in the story of Giles, the farmer’s boy, and his various labors throughout the seasons. In summer, for example, “The Farmer’s life displays in every part A moral lesson to the sensual heart Though in the lap of Plenty, thoughtful still, He looks beyond the present good or ill”. (Wickett and Duval, 1971, p. 80) The poem cycle celebrates a rural community and the sense of the divine spirit that pervaded its pursuits. As Linnell turned away from organized religion and toward a sacred conception of landscape, he would have appreciated this sentiment. His 1830 painting “The Farmer Boy”, exhibited at the Royal Academy, commemorates this connection to Bloomfield. “The Shepherd Boy” is thought to be a smaller replica of this earlier work, likewise inspired by Bloomfield and the motto of “The Farmer's Boy”, taken from Alexander Pope’s poem “Summer—The Second Pastoral; or Alexis” (1709): “a Shepherd's boy, he seeks no better name.” The child gently engages the viewer, looking up as he plays the fipple flute, an instrument similar to a recorder. The humble origins of the shepherd boy and his humility parallel the pastoral identity of Christ as a “shepherd of men.” Linnell’s close relationship with Samuel Palmer in this period motivated this exploration. In 1828 and 1829, Linnell and George Richmond visited Palmer at Shoreham in Kent, where the younger artist was engaged in his own visionary experiments with landscape painting. Linnell maintained this symbiotic relationship among landscape study, artistic practice, and religious belief throughout his career.

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 291, no. 105, pl. 105, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Katharine Crouan, John Linnell, a centennial exhibition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] New York, 1982, p. 25, No. 68, Pl. 68, NJ18 L658 C75 (YCBA)

Raymond Lister, British romantic painting, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge New York, 1989, no. 47, ND467 L53 1989 (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 154 (v.1), no. 294, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA)

Christiana Payne, Toil and plenty, images of the agricultural landscape in England, 1780-1890 , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1993, p. 101, cat. 19, pl. 12, ND1354.4 P39 1993 (YCBA)

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