This painting was the first that this Liverpool-born artist exhibited in London, where it was shown at the Society of British Artists in 1855 and sold for four guineas. It is an example of the small-scale genre subjects for which Campbell is best known and which portray incidents from respectable lower-middle class and artisan life in Liverpool, often in a humourous vein. The Lollipop was painted and exhibited during the height of the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism in England. Campbell was a member of the Liverpool School, a group of painters within the Liverpool Academy who were particularly receptive to Pre-Raphaelitism and who supported and imitated the London school. William Windus (1822-1907) was the most important member of this group. The Lollipop, a subject from contemporary life, is painted with the detailed execution and bright, clear colour that characterise Campbell's work and which are Pre-Raphaelite traits. In fact, paintings by Campbell have, in the past, been mistakenly attributed to John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893). The use of lighter and less intense colours generally distinguishes works by the Liverpool Pre-Raphaelites from those of their London fellows.
Campbell has been described by Frank Milner as 'the most Dickensian of all the Pre-Raphaelites' (Milner 1995, p.138) and his tale of the poor, blind child, to whom local charity is offered in the form of a lollipop, is a study in minutely observed character and sentiment. Despite her blank expression and large eyes that apparently register nothing, the girl's obediently folded arms, tidy feet, slightly inclined head and open mouth suggest that the treat is precious and eagerly anticipated. The ragged street vendor cocks his head sympathetically on one side to watch as the lollipop is safely delivered. Campbell's restrained use of colour, which is reserved for the bright yellows and pinks of the child's plaid shawl and the yellow and pink sweets upon the tray, sentimentalises the plight of the little blind girl. The red admiral butterfly in Millais's The Blind Girl of 1856 (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery) produces a similar effect. The sketchier depiction of background details is a characteristic that is noticeable in other paintings by this artist. Marrillier attributed it to the fact that Campbell 'had not the gift of combining figures with scenery'. (H.C. Marrillier, The Liverpool School of Painters, London 1904, p.84)
Frank Milner, The Pre-Raphaelites: Pre-Raphaelite Paintings & Drawings in Merseyside Collections, Merseyside 1995.
Mary Bennett, Merseyside Painters, People and Places, Walker Art Gallery Collection, Liverpool 1978.
Anon. Sale, Leger Galleries, London 1995, p.13, reproduced in colour.