Penrith and Eden Museum has acquired an important painting ‘The Druids Cutting Down the Mistletoe’ by local artist Jacob Thompson (1806-1879), which is now on display in its Robinson’s School premises in Middlegate, Penrith.
The work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1832 and shows figures in a wooded clearing in the Eden Valley with the Bronze Age stone circle of Long Meg and Her Daughters, one of Eden’s iconic monuments and tourist destinations, clearly visible in the distance.
According to the artist’s biographer, Llewellyn Jewitt, it was commissioned by Colonel Samuel Lacy, (remembered locally as creator of ‘Lacy’s Caves’) owner of the monument and surrounding land. The painting provides an evocative example of how prehistoric sites were admired and represented by British artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Jacob Thompson was born in Langton Street in Penrith, the eldest son of the Quaker factory owner Merrick Thompson whose father had built Factory Yard in Friargate. He first worked as a sign painter before the Earl of Lonsdale, William Lowther, recognised his talent and helped him to train in the Royal Academy Schools of Art in London. He quickly excelled and became a successful portrait painter with a studio in Hanover Square, but by 1841 his love of the landscape of Cumbria drew him back here for good.
Penrith and Eden Museum’s Curator Dr. Sydney Chapman said: “The subject of the painting is one to which Thompson readily responded, the Druids being seen as living in harmony with and close to Nature and a reminder of the influence on the artist of the Quaker poet Thomas Wilkinson of Yanwath. Thompson recalled how as a boy he heard the ‘sage old man’ reciting his verses on Mayborough Henge and Arthur’s Round Table which he linked with the oral traditions of the Druids. Another link is with Wordsworth, a close friend of Wilkinson and whose poem on Long Meg and Her Daughters was written within a year of the painting being first exhibited.”
The purchase of the painting, valued at £30,000 by Christie’s of London, was made possible by grants from the Friends of Penrith and Eden Museum (£1,000,) the Art Fund (£6,000), V & A Purchase Fund (£12,000), and Eden District Council (£11,000). The work complements other works by Thompson already in the care of the Museum some of them acquired in recent years like ‘The Height of Ambition’ (2006) and ‘The Close of the Vintage’ (2003).