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A fern gatherer - West Highlands

A fern gatherer - West Highlands

oil on canvas
70.2 × 60.0 cm
inscribed in pen and brown ink on accompanying paper label: R. Herdma (...illeg.) / A Fern-gatherer - West (...illeg.)
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased by the Commissioners of Fine Arts for Victoria, 1864
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
19th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International

Exhibited Royal Academy, London, 1864, no. 19; purchased from the artist, by Sir Charles Eastlake, for the NGV, 1864.

Exhibited: Royal Academy, London, 1864, no. 19; Fine Arts Gallery (Compartment 10), Intercolonial Exhibition, Melbourne, 1866, no. 305; First Loan Exhibition of Works of Art, NGV, Melbourne,  1869, no. 504; Victorian Social Conscience, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1976, no. 32; The First Collections:  The Public Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in the 1850s and 1860s, Melbourne University Gallery, 1992, no 6.

Joshua Reynolds in the eighteenth century invented a new category of child portraiture, the ‘fancy portrait’, for which he employed children to dress up and pose in roles of the artist’s own ‘fancy’. Thus, child portraits could now extend beyond polite images of society offspring, occasionally touching on wider social issues. Robert Herdman’s portrait of a dishevelled ferngatherer continues Reynolds’ tradition of the ‘fancy portrait’ in its emphasis upon the infant’s vulnerability. Victorian audiences warmed to its romantic mountain setting and inherent pathos. A fern gatherer garnered high praise at the 1864 Royal Academy exhibition, where it was acquired for Melbourne on the advice of Sir Charles Eastlake. It was among the first paintings shown at the opening of the NGV at Christmas 1864.


Robert Herdman’s A fern gatherer is an early acquisition for the collection. Shown at the Royal Academy in 1864 it was purchased from the artist by Sir Charles Eastlake for the NGV the same year. It came into the collection with this frame by the Edinburgh frame maker Aitken Dott, which will be the frame used to exhibit the painting at the RA in 1864. The frame uses a slip with arched upper corners which in part references Pre-Raphaelite frames of the period.
The composition decorative work laid into the scotia and the ornamented corners are characteristic of mid C19th frames in England, a style which is adopted extensively in Australia through the 1860’s to the 1880’s.
Slips with arched corners occur frequently in frames made in Melbourne by Isaac Whitehead in the 1870’s and the form and decorative work of frames like this are references for local frame makers.

Aitken Dott
14 & 16 St. David St. Edinburgh

Composition on a wooden chassis, gold leaf

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National Portrait Gallery


Location of stamp
Centre reverse of canvas
Ink stencil
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National Portrait Gallery