Robert Bateman, The Three Ravens (The Dead Knight)

Private collection

Date: c. 1868
Technique: Watercolour with bodycolour and gum arabic, 28 x 39 cm

This haunting watercolour is probably Bateman’s most famous work and has a distinguished exhibition history. Its melancholic timbre is reminiscent of Burne-Jones’ watercolours of the 1860s such as The Merciful Knight (Birmingham City Art Gallery) and Green Summer (private collection). It was formerly known as The Dead Knight, referring to the figure stretched out in a meadow amid cow-parsley growing beside a spring, but the trio of black birds amongst the trees link the picture to a seventeenth century English folk poem The Three Ravens. It was as The Three Ravens that it was first exhibited at the Dudley Gallery in 1868, one of his fourteen exhibits there between 1865 and 1874. Bateman probably encountered the poem in Francis James Child’s English and Scottish Ballads, published in 1861;

There were three ravens sat on a tree,
They were as blacke as they might be,
With a downe, derrie, derrie, derrie, downe, downe.

Downe in yonder greene field,
There lies a knight slain under his shield.
His hounds they lie downe at his feete,
So well they their master keepe.


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