Robert Walker Macbeth RA ROI RWS

Far From The Madding Crowd

Regular price POA
Unit price

Robert Walker Macbeth RA ROI RWS

Far From The Madding Crowd

Regular price POA
Unit price
Make An Enquiry

This spellbinding late 19th-century oil painting by Scottish artist Robert Walker Macbeth RA ROI RWS (1848-1910) depicts a young woman wearing a white pelerine and a jacket trimmed with fur while leaning against a tree by the entrance to a wood. It was shown at the Grosvenor Gallery, London, and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. In a photograph from 1884, it’s positioned on an easel by the artist.

As a child, young Macbeth was surrounded by artistic endeavour and the associated bustle of the industry. His father, Norman Macbeth RSA (1821-1888), was an eminent portrait painter and undertook numerous commissions for dignitaries. These early experiences - the lengthy sittings, the academic community, the banter between peers, instilled in him a fascination for mankind. And more specifically, how an artist can work as a descriptive conduit between an individual’s spirit and the world at large.

His father provided initial tuition before he sought formal training in Germany and then via the Royal Scottish Academy. Emphasis was placed upon honing one’s drawing ability - a talent which served him well. Unlike his father, he opted to avoid portraiture in favour of landscapes and figure painting, debuting at the Dudley Gallery at the age of 21. He subsequently moved to London and joined the rising stars at The Graphic magazine as an illustrator.

His formative works can be described broadly as social realism, with Frederick Walker (1840-1875) a particular inspiration. Sir John Everett Millais described Walker as "the greatest artist of the century" - his gritty portrayals of rural workers were acutely honest. We see this in Macbeth’s ‘The Lincolnshire Gang’ and ‘The Potato Harvest’, which are back-breakingly rigorous. Each figure buckled with the weight of labour - carrying creaking baskets and tools, arching and tugging.

He’d decided upon these subjects following an article in The Times regarding the field labourers of Lincolnshire. On a whim, travelling to understand their struggles and capture their toil first-hand. He did so for interest, not for patrons - rarely did he conform to the requests of art connoisseurs. Both of these works are respectful, visceral, real - and importantly, lacking condescension. He quickly achieved various accolades, ultimately earning membership to several institutions including the Royal Academy, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, and the Royal Watercolour Society. Also recognised for his work as an etcher.

A restless artist, Macbeth continually sought new environments in which to garner ideas and observe the human condition. In 1880, it was Brittany, France, that encouraged him to produce several maritime paintings. And in 1884, Somerset imbued his brush with a hazy, cider-enriched, charm. It’s fair to say that, later in life, his subjects were viewed through the rose-tinted spectacles of comfortable middle age, perhaps after encountering the relaxed South-West.

Here, in this piece from 1883, he’s at his peak, working with maximum resolve yet still invigorated by every subject. Titled ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, it could be a reference to Thomas Hardy’s book of the same name and it’s been suggested that it depicts Fanny Robin, Bathsheba Everdene’s servant. However, Victorian critics felt this unlikely due to her highly fashionable attire so it’s probably simply an enticing clue designed to stir the imagination. She’s pregnant, contemplative, lost in a ponderous gaze, a bouquet rests alongside, somewhat forlornly. A wooded track winds upwards - into the unknown yonder. Where’s the father? Does he know? A critic remarked that it possessed ‘pure and powerful colour’ and was ‘brilliant work’.

Robert Walker Macbeth is represented at Tate Britain, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Getty Museum, V&A, Guildhall Art Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, Merton College at the University of Oxford, the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, Princeton University Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums.

Signed/dated in the lower right and held within a later frame.

Learn more about Robert Walker Macbeth in our directory.

Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 28” x 45” /71 cm x 114cm
Year of creation: 1883
Labels & Inscriptions: Copy of a drawing of the piece attached to the reverse along with a framer’s label.
Provenance: Sotheby's, London, 29 March 1983, lot 127 / Private collection, UK.
Exhibited: London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1884, no. 214 / Liverpool, Walker Gallery, 1884.
Condition: Assessed and approved by our conservator. Cleaned. Revarnished. Canvas relined. Fine and settled craquelure, as you would expect. The paint layer is stable.
Artist’s auction maximum: £55,000 for ‘Sedge Cutting in Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire, Early Morning’, Oil on canvas, Christie's, The Forbes Collection, London, 2003.
Our reference: BRV1816

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

Stay In Touch
Subscribe to our Wednesday newsletter for the latest finds and 10% off your order.