Walter Armstrong, Briton Riviere Royal Academician, His Life and Work, special issue of Art Annual, 1891, p.22
Regarded as the most able successor to the great painter of animals Sir Edwin Landseer, Briton Riviére's art was highly popular in the later nineteenth century when he exhibited sensitive portrayals of animals and human figures in which the beasts emphasise the portrayals of human emotion. Perhaps his most famous work is Prisoners also known as Fidelity of 1869 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) in which a young poacher and his dog await trial in a bare prison cell. The sympathy of the faithful dog for his master caught the imagination of the Victorian public and it was a similar appeal to that of Landseer's Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner (Victoria and Albert Museum). Riviére's biographer Walter Armstrong has described the artist's ability to depict emotion in the expressions of his animals without overly anthropomorphising them; 'Speaking of him broadly as an artist, Riviére's strong points are his sympathy with animals, his pleasant sense of colour, his directness of conception, and his fine vein of poetry. The first of these saves him from that besetting sin of the English animalier, the dressing up in human sentiments, and the setting among human conditions, of the lower animals. His sympathy with dogs is too thorough to permit of their degradation into half-taught actors. He paints them for what they are, a symbol of what man was once, the rough material of civilisation with virtues and vices yet unblunted by convention... His interest, in fact, is in the animal's real self.' (Walter Armstrong, Briton Riviére, Royal Academician, His Life and Work, special edition of The Art Annual, 1891, p. 24)
The most successful of Riviére's compositions are those in which a solitary human figure is shown with a dog. This was a formula used for one of Riviere's most famous and celebrated pictures Sympathy of 1877 (Royal Holloway College) which depicts the artist's daughter Mary seated at the top of a flight of steps, having been banished for some misdemeanor and is comforted by her little dog. Another example is Rus in Urbe (sold in these rooms, 12 June 2003, lot 259) in which a young shepherd's anguish at being in a city street is emphasized by the fear on the face of his collie. Compulsory Education captures a more humorous sentiment as the little girl attempts to teach her pet to read. Riviére was particularly fond of bloodhounds which feature prominently in several of his paintings, including The Last of the Garrison of 1875, Envy, Hatred and Malice of 1881 (Sotheby's, New York, 2 November 2002, lot 80), In Manus Tuas, Domini of 1879 (Manchester City Art Gallery) and Requiescat of 1889 (Christie's, 19 February 2003, lot 39) in which a loyal hound stands guard at the side of a dead knight.
Compulsory Education was chosen by Pears soap for an advertising poster. Pears were famous for their marketing campaigns with the fame of their posters featuring John Everett Millais' Bubbles and William Powell Frith's New Frock being among the most enduring nineteenth century advertisements. Riviére's painting, with the girl's immaculate white gown and its delightful subject suited Pears purposes very well and although the original painting has not be seen for many years the coloured Pears print has ensured that the image has remained well-known.
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