First Grief (1910)

Charles Spencelayh painted First Grief in 1910 and hangs at Hull's Ferens Gallery. Best known for his detailed paintings of old men in cluttered interiors, this shows a young boy mourning his little pet. It focuses on themes of old age and death, which were popular with Victorian and Edwardian audiences. In a letter to Vincent Galloway, Director of the Ferens Gallery in 1940, Spencelayh noted that the boy in the painting, who acted as his model on several occasions, was tragically killed in the Great War in 1916. The boy is shown grieving, but he was himself the object of grief just six years later.

Our lives are characterised by grief and grieving. The painting’s title assumes, quite rightly, that the boy has many more periods of grief through which to go, as people dearer to him than even that animal will cross death’s dark stream. Perhaps his own death in that tragic war ironically spared him some grief, while multiplying many others’. The more I see of this world, the more I grieve; the more I grieve, the more I long for the next world, where there shall be neither pain nor death.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:18