Anguish (c. 1878)
oil on canvas
151.0 x 251.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
August Friedrich Schenck
Danish-born artist August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck settled in Paris as a young man, to study at the famous École des Beaux-Arts. He spent most of his career in Paris, specialising in painting landscapes and animal subjects, which were often seen as a metaphor for human relationships and society. These included several snowy, winter landscapes depicting sheep struggling for survival.
In Anguish, a brave ewe stands defiantly over the limp body of her lamb. Blood from the lamb’s mouth trickles on to the snow. The pair is encircled by a mass of menacing black crows. The situation appears hopeless, despite the bravery of the ewe.
Anguish was one of the NGV’s earliest acquisitions. In 1906, the painting was voted among the five most popular in the Melbourne collection. Today it is displayed among other 19th century narrative paintings in the NGV where it continues to inspire visitors. Evidence of its enduring appeal can be found on social media sites including Flickr. August Schenck even has a fan club on Facebook.
- The composition of Anguish has been carefully considered to create atmosphere, mood and meaning. Discuss, considering how the artist has used elements such as colour and tone, and design principles such as focal point and repetition.
- How might Anguish be interpreted as a metaphor for human relationships and society? Consider what types of human characters and behaviour the sheep and the crows might symbolise.
- Why do you think Anguish has strong popular appeal?
L. Benson in T. Gott, L. Benson & contributors, 20th Century Painting and Sculpture in the International Collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003.