Henry Tonks

Rosamund and the Purple Jar

exhibited 1900

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Not on display

Henry Tonks 1862–1937
Oil paint on wood
Support: 527 × 375 mm
frame: 740 × 590 × 80 mm
Purchased 1923

Display caption

The title of this painting is taken from a series of moralising tales for children written by Maria Edgworth in 1823. Rosamund decides to buy a large jar of purple liquid she had seen in a chemist’s shop window, rather than a new pair of shoes. In this painting her delight turns to dismay as she realises that she will be confined indoors because her shoes are too uncomfortable to wear.

Edgworth was writing at a time when nearly all literature intended for children was didactic in intention, though these moral tales remain very popular today.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Not inscribed.
Oil on panel, 20 3/4×14 3/4 (52·5×37·5).
Purchased from the Trustees of the late F. J. Mercer (Grant-in-Aid) 1923.
Coll: F. J. Mercer.
Exh: N.E.A.C., summer 1900 (73); International Exhibition, St Louis, March 1904 (269).
Lit: Hone, 1939, pp.51, 331.

The subject is taken from Maria Edgeworth's The Purple Jar, the first story of a series entitled Rosamund - A Series of Tales. These were moralizing stories for children, and in The Purple Jar Rosamund has to decide between buying a new pair of shoes and the large jar of purple liquid which had attracted her as she passed a chemist's shop window. She is dismayed to find that, when the liquid is poured away, the jar is only of ordinary colourless glass. The artist has chosen the passage: ‘The moment it was set down upon the table, Rosamund ran up to it with an exclamation of joy: “May I have it now, Mamma?”’

At least six drawings exist showing various stages in the development of the composition. Five are in a large sketch-book (black crayon on thin tracing paper, 9 7/8×14 3/4 in.), formerly belonging to C. H. Collins Baker and now in the Tate Gallery library; the sixth belongs to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (black and pastel chalks, 17 1/2×13 3/4 in.).

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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