Depicting a protective mother comforting her children from an inquisitive rafter of turkeys, this picture was probably based upon sketches made in the market at Granville on the French coast in the summer of 1878. The naturalism of the costumes and setting is combined with the sentiment and drama of the scene, reflecting the influence of the plein air painters that Melville would have encountered during his time at the artist’s colony at Grez-sur-Loing in 1880. His studies of peasants in rural landscapes were in part influenced by the painters of the Barbizon school, such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille-Corot and Jean-Francois Millet.
The piquant red of the turkey and fruit is characteristic of his early oil paintings in which blocks of bright colour provide points of visual intrigue, though the brushstrokes are tighter here than in previous works in oil.
The present picture was in the collection of James Thomson Tullis (1842-1910), a leather-goods manufacturer who served as a Director of the Glasgow Institute of Fine Art where Old Enemies was exhibited in 1905. It may not be a coincidence that Tullis moved to a new home in 1905, Kiloran House in Hatfield Drive, and purchased the picture to decorate the walls of his new home.
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