Gavin Claxton


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‘The Fallen Knight’ by Briton Rivière R.A. (1840-1920).

This mid-19th century Pre-Raphaelite oil painting is signed by the artist and dated 1863. The starting point for Rivière’s painting is an 18th century Scottish ballad about two crows who find a mortally wounded knight abandoned by his comrades, his hawk, his hound and even his lover. The "twa corbies" hungrily discuss feasting on his corpse.

However, unlike every other depiction of this story, here the crows are reduced to shadowy supporting characters in the background whilst the dying knight is very deliberately placed front and centre as the focus of the composition. But not the sole focus. The entire mood and message of what would otherwise be a morbid tale is turned on its head by the inclusion of the little hare in the foreground. He (or she) is the one creature that has chosen to – literally – stand by the dying soldier. In Anglo-Saxon mythology the hare is a symbol of rebirth.

Crucially, unlike the ballad on which it is based, the painting doesn’t dwell on the crows and death and those who profit from it, but instead on the knight and the hare and the promise of resurrection.

Rivière’s painting recalls another Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, ‘The Stonebreaker’ by Henry Wallis which depicts a manual labourer who has been worked to death. On the face of it, the theme of both paintings is the tragic hero exploited, victimized and abandoned, but in ‘The Fallen Knight’ Briton Rivière has chosen to add a note of optimism with the addition of this steadfast little hare. The artist revisited a similar theme twenty-five years later with his Royal Academy painting of 1888. In ‘Requiescat’, a dead knight in full armour lies in state and sitting beside the tomb, mourning his master, is a devoted hound.

All of our paintings are offered in the finest condition they can be for their age having been professionally cleaned, conserved, and re-varnished. Clients should also note that tracked and signed for international shipping is complimentary.

Briton Rivière trained under his father, the artist William Rivière (1806-1876), master of the drawing school at Cheltenham College and Oxford University. At the age of eleven, two of his pictures were exhibited at the British Institution, and at seventeen he made his Royal Academy debut. Whilst still in his teens Rivière came under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites and in particular John Everett Millais (1829-1896) who was so impressed with ‘Charity’, Riviere’s Royal Academy painting of 1870, that he sought out the young artist to convey his compliments.

Briton Rivière’s great success came as a painter of animals, and in particular dogs and lions. By 1873, following the death of Sir Edwin Landseer, he was considered Britain’s greatest painter of animals. Rivière was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1878 and became a full Academician two years later. After the death of Millais in 1896, he was narrowly defeated by Sir Edward John Poynter in the vote for President of the Royal Academy. Today, paintings by Briton Rivière are held in the collections of Tate Britain, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Dimensions: (framed) 46¼cm x 61½cm (18¼” x 24¼”)

Dimensions: (canvas only) 59cm x 75cm (23¼” x 29½”)

Medium: Oil on canvas.

Provenance: Circa 1860; with Robert Cumming, Edinburgh. Circa 1980; with Cider House Galleries, Surrey. Thence in private UK collection.

Presentation: Newly commissioned gold metal leaf Pre-Raphaelite frame. All of the new frames we commission are especially made for us to order by one of the UK’s top period frame makers.

Condition: Very good. Newly professionally cleaned, restored, and re-varnished. Ready to hang.


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