Cant you talk


Can't You Talk? (1925; original painting 1875)

Artist: George Augustus Holmes

This highly sought-after work was originally painted by the famous 19th-century British artist, George Augustus Holmes (d. 1911). He was the brother of the landscape, marine, and portrait painter, Edward Holmes.

George Holmes was one of the few prominent painters of children who recognized the importance of the role they had to play in art during the Victorian era, and he displayed beautifully the bond between children and their pets.

He enjoyed tremendous popularity in his day. His works were much-loved by his clients and increasingly gain widespread recognition throughout today's international market.

Purportedly, the story behind this painting is that one warm, summer day this fine, healthy baby took off his shoes and stockings and all other clothes except a petticoat (both boys and girls wore these in the 18th and 19th centuries). Mother put him on the cool floor of the kitchen to play with the kitten while she busied herself with her household duties. The baby was not old enough to walk, but could creep very fast. While mother was distracted by her work, he made his way across the threshold to the old flagstones where his friend, the border collie, was meditating in the sun. The dog sat up when he saw the baby coming, and this picture shows the moment when the two looked into each other's eyes. Neither child nor dog (nor kitten!) can say, "Can't you talk?" but they manage to communicate easily.

The picture is painted in love and sympathy, not only with the child, but his playmates. The cat and dog are satisfying because they are not represented as endowed with powers of intelligence beyond their species. They are like the domestic animals that we know.

Photo credit: Charlie Hoyer