OIL PAINTING: The Hireling Shepherd, 1851
Hireling ShepherdWilliam Holman Hunt's The Hireling Shepherd epitomizes the painter's emulation of Hogarthian techniques and his quest for typological symbolism. The painting centers on a realistically rendered shepherd and shepherdess, reclining in a field beside a row of trees. Dressed in a typical field worker's attire, the shepherd leans seductively toward the young woman, his head practically resting on her shoulder. In her loose-fitting casual dress, the shepherdess reciprocates his feelings through her suggestive body language. She leans back toward him and reaches her right arm back to seemingly grasp his; however, her facial expression is less inviting, bearing a hint of excessive pride. To the right of the couple, a lamb sits, eating apples. More apples, flowers, and grass dominate the foreground of the image, while sheep graze in a shady area to the shepherd's left.
Although at first glance, The Hireling Shepherd appears to be a straightforward country scene, it is full of symbolic meaning. Hunt believed that to have any sort of value or vitality, art needed to possess religious significance and emotional resonance with the viewer. Hunt rendered the The Hireling Shepherd in a highly realistic manner, however, Hunt often stressed that realism was not his primary goal in painting. Similar to Hogarth's work, Industry and Idleness, Hunt used The Hireling Shepherd to emphasize the importance of a good work ethic for all citizens and to show the potentially harmful effects of idleness. As a result of the shepherd's neglect, the land has turned marshy and the sheep are in poor health.