My Favourite Painting: The Archbishop of Wales

'The Christian faith is, for some, too idealistic or naïve, but for those who understand Strutt’s inspiration, the painting is a metaphor for the Kingdom of God.'

The Archbishop of Wales chooses Peace:

‘“Too idealistic” and “naïve”: two reactions to Strutt’s painting. It’s a “favourite” in a very particular sense: the Christian faith is, for some, too idealistic or naïve, but for those who understand Strutt’s inspiration, the painting is a metaphor for the Kingdom of God, in which innocence, gentleness and generosity of spirit triumph over division, conflict and self.

‘The little child prefigures Christ, who embodies that Kingdom and, in his teaching, turns on its head what some see as the natural order in which might is right and self is king. Even if turning that world view on its head is idealistic or naïve, count me in! ’

The Most Revd John D. E. Davies is Archbishop of Wales and the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon.

John McEwen on Peace:

Christ the Messiah is the fulfilment of God’s grand design, as prophesied in the Old Testament and testified in the New.

This picture says it all. It illustrates Isaiah, Chapter 11: v1,5,6: ‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.’

As a best-selling print, this picture, often titled And a little child shall lead them, struck a universal chord. There are other examples of William Strutt’s oil painting to be found, but the one that is housed in Brecon Cathedral is the original.

The Strutts made their name first as Essex mill owners and then as artists for four generations. William’s grand-father, Joseph Strutt, remains ‘an influential but totally neglected figure’ in British art history (Sir Roy Strong). William’s father was a successful miniaturist painter and his uncle wrote widely read religious commentaries.

William was an art student in France and England before visiting Australia for his health. He married there and established himself as an artist, doing portraits and scenes of contemporary events; he also visited New Zealand. In 2015, a painting of a Maori insurrection he had witnessed was bought by the Museum of New Zealand for NZ$1.5 million (about £781,000).

A devout Christian, he returned to England in middle age, preferring not to raise his children in what he had come to consider a godless society.