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William Mulready often painted themes of childhood and education. In this painting the master of a country school bows mockingly to a cringing late arrival, on the left. A birch lies in front of his desk, and in the foreground another pupil sits on a low stool, already in disgrace. Other boys lurk outside the door as if uncertain whether they dare to join the class at all. The landscape framed by the large window contrasts the nurture of the classroom with the world of nature – where the children would probably rather be.

May 2007