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The picture belongs to a tradition of visual representations of the sin of sloth. Here an old woman has fallen asleep while reading the Bible. The threat such negligence poses is embodied by the cat who greedily eyes a plate of fish. Part of the picture’s appeal for the 4th Marquess of Hertford may have been that it had once been in the collection of Jeremiah Harman. After the Harman sale of 1844, the 4th Marquess of Hertford complained to his friend Colonel Gurwood: ‘How sorry I am that you did not let me know that Mr Harman’s pictures were to be sold at Christie’s – you are sure to have known it – they are magnificent beyond expression, and it would have delighted me to have bought a few’.
oil on canvas
H 37.5 x W 33 cm
acquired by Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, 1848; bequeathed to the nation by Lady Wallace, 1897