In Time of Peril appeared at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1897, the year that marked the triumphant 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign. Edmund Blair Leighton specialised in painting chivalric vignettes, which were popular with the Royal Academy and also reflected the popularity at the time of the Arthurian Revival.
A critic sagely observed in 1913 that the artist bridged the gulf between legendary life and modern existence, by portraying ‘the people of past generations with feelings that they belong equally to our own time’.
In a letter, Blair Leighton described the scene as ‘laid at the water gate of a monastery in the fourteenth century; the outcome of reading of the shelter afforded by such places to the women, children and treasure, of those who were hard driven, and in danger’. While the adults in the boat all look anxiously at the elderly friar, awaiting his permission to enter the sanctuary, our attention is captured by the child, who looks fearfully over his shoulder, suggesting that their enemies are close behind.