Herdman, Robert (1829-88; Scottish)
The Fern Gatherer – West Highands 1864
Oil on canvas, 70.2 x 60.0 cm
Purchased by the Commisioners of Fine Arts for Victoria, 1864 (advice of Sir Charles Eastlake)
National Gallery of Victoria (p.300.15-1)

This typically Victorian painting, shown at the Royal Academy in London in 1864, was one of the first works chosen for Melbourne by Eastlake.

Ann Galbally (1992) quotes the diverse views of Melbourne critics in 1864-5: one writer saw the girl as unrealistically attractive, while another described her as more touching in her simplicity than Bedford La Belle Yseult 1863 {1864} NGV [PA], beside which this canvas hung in 1894.

Galbally notes a related painting by Herdman in the Queensland Art Gallery (Girl with Bundle of Straw, 1863; purchased, 1938), and also suggests parallels with Millais’s emotive 1856 canvas The Blind Girl (Birmingham Museum).

The present work also seems closely comparable with photographs of the era, notably the well-known images of young girls taken by Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll (1832-98).

Herdman, who showed regularly at the Royal Scottish Academy from 1850, was known particularly for patriotic Scottish history paintings, e.g. Prince Charles seeking refuge at the house of an adherent (1876), formerly in the Adelaide collection of Robert and Joanna Barr Smith.


NGV 1875, p.25; NGV 1894, p.80 (IV.McArthur Gallery, no.27); NGV 1905, p.93 (III.McArthur Gallery, no.44) [£52/10] 

For this work, see Galbally First Collections (1992), pp.44-45, cat.no.8 (with further details on the artist; the Queensland painting is reproduced on p.44). The present work is also reproduced and discussed briefly by Alison Inglis in For Auld Lang Syne (2014), esp.pp.224-5; see also ibid, pp.221-2, for the Bonnie Prince Charlie painting formerly in the collection of Robert Barr Smith (1824-1915) and his wife Joanna (née Elder; 1835-1919), orrens Park, Adelaide (with references)

For Herdman, see also Bénézit 6, p.1429 (listing the present work) and AKL 72 (2012), pp.140-41

See also Helmut Gernsheim, Lewis Carroll – Photographer (1950), New York: Dover, 1969, e.g. pl.29 (Carroll’s 1863 photograph of Amy Hughes, the daughter of Pre-Raphaelite painter Arthur Hughes)