This painting shows a young boy breaking stones for road mending. This was an unskilled job often given to paupers. The landscape is Box Hill near Dorking, Surrey. The painting seems to reflect the critic John Ruskin's (1819-1900) ideal of truth to nature as well as the artist’s interest in geology. Plants, trees and rock formations are painted with scientific accuracy. The stones are flints. The plants, all botanically identifiable, tell us that Brett was working in August or September. Brett may have had a symbolic meaning in mind for this painting: the bullfinch, included on the tree branch, traditionally symbolises the soul.

The painting was exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1856. When it was later exhibited at London's Royal Academy, in 1858, it was admired for its accurate detail and the delicacy of its finish. Ruskin called it "simply the most perfect piece of painting with respect to touch, in the Academy this year; in some points of precision it goes beyond anything the Pre-Raphaelites have done yet. I know of no such thistledown, no such chalk hills and elm trees, no such natural pieces of far away cloud in any of their works."


  • Title: The Stonebreaker
  • Creator: John Brett
  • Creator Lifespan: 1831/1902
  • Date Created: 1857-1858
  • Physical Dimensions: 51.3 cm x 68.5 cm
  • Rights: Bequeathed to the Walker Art Gallery by Mrs Sarah Ann Barrow in 1918
  • Medium: Oil paint; Canvas

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