(Woodham Mortimer, England, 1834 – Paignton, England, 1922)
The Croppy Boy (The Confession of an Irish Patriot)
Oil on canvas
91.6 x 76.2 cm
Royal Canadian Academy of Arts diploma work, deposited by the artist, Toronto, 1880
National Gallery of Canada, 118
Photo: National Gallery of Canada
The Croppy Boy (The Confession of an Irish Patriot) illustrates an 1845 ballad about the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The song tells the story of a young patriot who confesses his intention to join the insurrection before going off to fight. But the priest is actually a disguised British soldier and the lad is sentenced to death. Excerpts of the ballad accompanied the painting when it was shown in the 1879 annual exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists. Schreiber deposited The Croppy Boy at the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts as her diploma work in 1880.
The English-born painter Charlotte Schreiber had already established a solid reputation when she settled in Toronto with her husband in 1875. In 1880, she became the only female charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. However, although inducted with full membership, she did not enjoy the same privileges as her male counterparts. Schreiber was also the first woman to teach at the Ontario College of Art and the only female member of its board. She returned to England after the death of her husband, in 1898.
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When Charlotte Schreiber’s The Croppy Boy (The Confession of an Irish Patriot) was shown at the 1879 exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists, it was accompanied by excerpts from the Irish ballad of the same name:
The youth has knelt to tell his sins:
“Nomine Dei,” the youth begins.
At the siege of Ross did my father fall,
And at Gorey my loving brothers all.
I alone am left of my name and race,
I will go to Wexford to take their place.
“Now, Father, bless me before I go,
To die, if God has ordained it so.”
The priest said naught, but a rustling noise,
Made the youth look up in wild surprise.
The robes were off, and in scarlet there,
Sat a yeoman captain, with fiery glare.
With fiery glare and with fury hoarse,
Instead of blessing he breathed a curse:
“Twas a good thought, boy, to come here and shrive,
For one short hour is your time to live!”