James Campbell

The Lollipop


Not on display

James Campbell 1828–1893
Oil paint on canvas
Unconfirmed: 350 × 300 mm
frame: 536 × 484 × 80 mm
Presented by David Posnett and the Leger Galleries 1996 to celebrate the Tate Gallery Centenary 1997


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)

Further reading:
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.

Rebecca Virag
February 2001

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Display caption

The charitable offer of a lollipop to a blind working-class girl is painted with exactness and clear bright colour. James Campbell was well known for contemporary subjects like this, showing the life of the urban poor. He became known as ‘the most Dickensian of all the Pre-Raphaelites’.Campbell was one of a group of painters within the Liverpool Academy of Arts who were keen followers of Pre-Raphaelite artists working in London. This was the first picture he exhibited in London, at the Society of British Artists in 1855.

Gallery label, July 2007

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Technique and condition

This oil painting is on a piece of plainly woven linen canvas with 17 vertical and 16 horizontal picks per centimetre. The support is not lined and is strong and supple. The stretcher appears to be the original, though the attachment is not: a set of tackholes is visible on each tacking margin. It is a plain rectangle composed of four pine members 50 mm wide and 14mm thick. The adjustable, mortise and tenon joints are square cut.

The off-white ground extends over the tacking edges and is composed of a coat of pure lead white in oil on top of a thicker layer of lead white and chalk in oil applied directly to the canvas. The artist began the painting with a detailed, outline drawing in graphite on to the ground, using a ruler for the edges of the buildings. The paint is mainly translucent and smooth, applied with small brushes. Impasto occurs in the centre foreground, tray of sweets and on the fence.

The painting is in very good condition, having hardly any cracks and those few visible only with magnification. The spandrels in the corners of the frame and the inner edge of the stretcher bars have left slight indentations in the support. There has been slight discolouration of the blue sky beneath the spandrels. The blue paint is composed of Cobalt blue, lead white, Mars yellow and ivory or bone black. Small areas of brown have developed minute wrinkles.

After acquisition at the Tate, the painting was surface cleaned. An insert of Artcor with wooded flanges glued to its edges was attached to the back of the stretcher in order to support the unlined canvas.

Rica Jones
August 2000

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