His Only Friend
Europe, United Kingdom, England
69.4 x 95.1 cm
His Only Friend 1871
Briton Rivière 1840-1920
Oil on canvas
There are strong echoes of Dickens' Oliver Twist,
who escaped the workhouse by travelling to London,
in Rivière's painting of nearly forty years later.
The ongoing exploitation of child labour in rural areas
led to increasing numbers of vagrants on British roads.
While the boy's relationship with his dog is sentimental,
his skinny body and bare feet were a reality for many.
Rivière succeeded Sir Edwin Landseer
as the leading Victorian animal painter.
Both artists gave their subjects human qualities:
'we never saw a dog so near to shedding tears'
wrote one reviewer of His Only Friend.
The artist was a pupil of Sir William Orchardson.