Beating for Recruits by Thomas Webster RA (1800-1886)
England, about 1830-1850, Museum no. 536-1882
Oil on panel, bequeathed by John Jones, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum
In the early 19th century, army and militia recruitment drives in the parishes and counties of England were often accompanied by much fanfare, including military drums and bugles. The children in this painting are pretending to recruit their playmates – the child blowing the horn is wearing an ornate paper hat in the military style and the taller boy wears a military cap. The glum-looking young lad inside the cottage is being distracted from the task of caring for his younger sibling, with unfortunate consequences – the crying baby is about to fall from the cradle he is rocking rather too enthusiastically.
Thomas Webster was well known for his popular paintings of daily life, often featuring children at play, in school, and at home. He frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy, with many of his paintings translated into popular engravings. The Victoria and Albert Museum holds several of his genre paintings and drawings which can be viewed online.
You can find this painting in the Childhood Galleries at the Museum of Childhood.