Artis: William Holman Hunt
The Hireling Shepherd (1851) is a painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. It represents a shepherd neglecting his flock in favour of an attractive country girl to whom he shows a death's-head hawkmoth. The meaning of the image has been much debated. Hunt painted the picture when he was working in close collaboration with John Everett Millais, who was painting Ophelia at the same time in the same region of Surrey. Both paintings depict English rural scenes, the innocence of which is disturbed by subtle but profoundly threatening violations of natural harmony. In Hunt's painting, the shepherd ignores his flock of sheep, who wander over a ditch into a field of corn. This violation of boundaries is paralleled by the shepherd's physical intrusions into the personal space of the young woman, who responds in an ambiguous way that might be interpreted as complicity or as a knowing scepticism. As he shows her the moth, he places his arm round her shoulder.