The painting depicts the figure of a man slumped in death. The public and press saw the painting as a justified criticism of the Poor Law, which forced paupers to break stones to repair roads in return for food and shelter. When exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858, instead of a title the painting was accompanied by a catalogue entry quoting Thomas Carlyle's (1795-1881) 'Sartor Resartus': 'Hardly-entreated Brother! For us thy back was so bent, for us were thy straight limbs and fingers so deformed: thou wert our Conscript, on whom the lot fell, and fighting our battles wert so marred. For in thee too lay a god-created Form, but it was not to be unfolded: encrusted must it stand with the thick adhesions and defacements of labour; and thy body, like thy soul, was not to know freedom.'The original frame was inscribed with a line from Tennyson's poem 'A Dirge': 'Now is done the long day's work'; the painting was exhibited under this title in Birmingham in 1861. The exhibition history of the painting is occasionally uncertain. A note attached to the back of the painting by the artist, dated 18th May 1884, reads: 'The stonebreaker was, I think, exhibited at the RA in 1858, also at Natl Exbn. at Dublin and again at Philadephia' (Birmingham files).The first owner of this painting, Viscount Powerscourt, owned another Wallis painting,'Henry Marten in Chepstow Gaol', also exhibited in Dublin in 1865. A smaller version of the painting from the collection of Jospeh Dixon was sold at Sotheby's Belgravia on 19th March 1979 (lot 18).

  • Presented by Charles Aitken, 1936.
  • © Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery


Association Artist Organisation
Artist Henry Wallis -


Type Position(s) Method Date(s) Notes
Signature and date bottom right - -


Catalogue No. Venue Date(s)
Annual exhibition with quotation from Carlyle's 'Sartor Resartus': 'Hardly entreated, brother! For...'
562 Royal Academy of Arts, London 1858 - 1858
no cat no Hogarth Club, London 1859 - 1859
36th Exhibition: with a different Carlyle quote from the RA Exh. of 1858
54 Liverpool Academy of Arts 1860 - 1860
exhibited with title 'Now is done thy long day's work'
176 Birmingham Society of Artists 1861 - 1861
Dublin International Exhibition of Art and Manufactures
129 Dublin 1865 - 1865
- Philadelphia Museum of Art 1968 - 1968-04-21
Annual Exhibition, lent by Joseph Dixon
197 St Jude's School House, Whitechapel 1887 - 1887
The Permanent Collection of Paintings, and a Special Loan Collection of Modern Pictures
233 Birmingham Museum and City Art Gallery 1891-10-02 - 1892
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
77 City Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham 1947-06-07 - 1947-07-27
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood 1848-1948 A Centenary Exhibition
23 Tate Gallery, London 1948-09 - 1948-09
The Victorian Romantics
91 Leicester Galleries, London 1949 - 1949
Some Pre-Raphaelite Paintings and Drawings
71 National Library of Wales, Aberstwyth 1955-07 - 1955-
71 Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea 1955 - 1955-10
Victorian Painting
64 Aldeburgh 1962 - 1962
Romantic Art in Britain: Paintings and Drawings 1760-1860
232 Detroit Institute of Arts 1968-01-09 - 1968
232 Philadelphia Museum of Art 1968 - 1968-04-21
Art and the Industrial Revolution
66 Manchester City Art Gallery 1968-05 - 1968-07
Bicentenary Exhibition 1768-1968
388 Royal Academy, London 1968-12-14 - 1969-03-02
56 Welsh Arts Council 1970 - 1970
The Pre-Raphaelites
92 Tate Gallery, London 1984-03-07 - 1984-05-28
Hard Times: Social Realism in Victorian Art
23 Manchester Art Gallery 1987-11-21 - 1987-01-17
Victorian Paintings
49 Neue Pinakothek, Munich 1993-02-19 - 1993-05-02
49 Museo del Prado, Spain 1993-05-24 - 1993-07-01
Ruskin, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites
204 Tate Britain, London 2000-03-09 - 2000-05-28
Exiles & Emigrants: Epic Journeys to Australia in the Victorian Era
no cat. no National Gallery of Victoria, Australia 2005-12-09 - 2006-06-04
Victorianische Malerei, von Turner bis Whistler
49 Neue Pinakothek, Munich 1993-02-26 - 1993
49 Museo del Prado, Madrid 1993 - 1993-07-31
Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection
40 Seattle Art Museum; USA and Birmingham tour 1995-03-09 - 1996-09-29


Author(s) Date(s) Publisher Pages
1 May 1858 The Athenaeum p.567
15 May 1858 Illustrated London News p.498
1858 Art Journal p.170
The Works of John Ruskin 1904-12 XIV
1904-1912 - pp.153, 170
City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham: Catalogue of Paintings
1960 City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham p.149
Royal Academy of Arts Bicentenary Exhibition 1768-1968
1968 Royal Academy, London 388
The Pre-Raphaelites
Timothy Hilton 1970 Thames and Hudson, London p.122, pl.85
The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape
Allen Staley 1973 Clarendon Press, Oxford p.88, pl.43A,
Victorian Panorama: Paintings of Victorian Life
Christopher Wood 1976 Faber, London pp.118-20., fig.119
The Hogarth Club 1858-61
D Cherry 1980 Burlington Magazine vol.122 pp.241,3,4,. fig.20
The Stonebreaker
David Cordingly March 1982 Burlington Magazine p.141
The Pre-Raphaelites
Leslie Parris 1984 Penguin Books; Tate Gallery, London 92
Hard Times: Social Realism in Victorian Art
Julian Treuherz 1987 Lund Humphries in association with Manchester City Art Gallery, London 23
Kunst um 1800 und die Folgen (a collection of essays in honour of Werner Hofmann)
Christian Beutler 1988 Prestel-Verlag, Munich p.298
Artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Circle
Mary Bennett 1988 Lund Humphries in association with Manchester City Art Gallery, London p.16
Victorianische Maleriei, von Turner bis Whistler
1993 Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Munich 49
Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection, England
Stephen Wildman 1995 Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia pp.157-9
Sermons in Stones: John Brett's'The Stonebreaker' reconsidered in 'Reframing the Pre-Raphaelites'
Christina Payne, Michael Hickox 1996 Scolar Press pp. 99-114
Victorian Painting
Graham Reynolds 1996 London pp.68-9, 91-2
Ruskin, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites
2000 Tate Britain, London cat.204
The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites
Elizabeth Prettejohn 2000 Princeton University Press pp.239-42
Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in Birmingham
2008 Public Catalogue Foundation, London p.195


Viscount Powerscourt, Ireland; Temple Soames, Tunbridge Wells in 1880s; Joseph Dixon, 1887; Charles Aitken.

Associated people

Name Type
Thomas Carlyle Associated with

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