Collection Online
A Roman holiday
oil on canvas
99.5 × 178.2 cm
inscribed in brown paint l.r.: B Riviere 1881
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1888
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
Subjects (general)
Allegory and Symbols Animals Violence
Subjects (specific)
crucifixes deaths gladiators injury (medical condition) martyrdoms slaves (people) tiger (species)

Exhibited Royal Academy, London, 1881, no. 155; probably purchased from the artist by Henry Tate (1819–99), 1881; his collection, Park Hill, Streatham Common, London, until 1883; by whom sold to Agnew’s (dealer), London, 16 July 1883, stock no. 2962[1]; with Agnew’s, London until 1888, and exhibited Loan Collection, British Gallery, Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888–89, no. 123[2]; from where purchased for the NGV, 1888.

[1] Record of the sale to the NGV not recorded in the Agnew’s stockbook. See Picture Stockbook 1879–85, NGA27/1/1/6, pp. 242–43, Thomas Agnew & Sons archive, National Gallery Research Centre, London, accessed

[2] The official catalogue of exhibits, etc.: Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, Melbourne: Mason, Firth & M'Cutcheon 1888–89, Loan Collection, British Gallery, p. 30, accessed

Exhibited Royal Academy, London, 1881, no. 155; Autumn Exhibition, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1881, no. 127; Fine Art Exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1882, no. 46; Fine Art Exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1887, no. 47, lent by Agnew’s; Loan Collection, British Gallery, Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888–89, no. 123, lent by Agnew’s; The Olympic Spirit, Australian Gallery of Sport, Melbourne, 1987, cat. p. 8; The First Fifty Years: Nineteenth Century British Art from the Gallery Archives, NGV, Melbourne, 1992; Hidden Treasures, David Jones Gallery, Sydney, 1992.

In one stanza of Lord Byron’s poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812–18), a dying gladiator reflects that he has been ‘butchered to make a Roman holiday’, a melancholic commentary on the cruel waste of humanity for the sake of public entertainment. Although Briton Rivière’s painting alludes to the poem, Rivière has imbued this work with Christian overtones not found in Byron’s text. Rivière’s slave draws the sign of the cross in the sand, making this a scene of religious martyrdom.


The Greek key or meander pattern in the small flat of the frame can also be found in the frames on George Pinwell The quarrel: Old cross c.1870 (468-2) and Richard Beavis, The charcoal burners, 1904, (135-2).
The frame on A Roman Holiday is likely to be the one used to exhibit the painting at the Royal Academy in 1881.
The painting appears on exhibition in this frame in a photograph of the British Loan Art Gallery of the Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888.

Unknown - 19th century

timber, composition, gold leaf


The frame has been over painted with gold coloured paint, losing the complexity of the gilded surface and the detail of the decorative forms.