We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Compulsory education



Briton Rivière


14 Aug 1840 – 20 Apr 1920

Alternate image of Compulsory education by Briton Rivière
Alternate image of Compulsory education by Briton Rivière
Alternate image of Compulsory education by Briton Rivière
Alternate image of Compulsory education by Briton Rivière
  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    oil on canvas
    73.0 x 52.5 cm canvas; 86.7 x 64.2 x 3.1 cm frame
    Signature & date

    Signed with monogram and dated l.l., in black oil "18[BR]87".

    Gift of the late Warren Halloran AM 2021
    Naala Nura, ground level, Grand Courts
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Briton Rivière

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Briton Rivière was born into a family of artists and received his initial training from his father. His talent was nurtured from an early age. Regular sketching trips to London Zoo helped foster his love of animals. Rivière was a regular participator to exhibitions throughout his career, having started exhibiting at the Royal Academy before his twentieth birthday. In 1878 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy with full membership in 1880. He became well known for his paintings combining classical mythology or biblical themes and animals. But the subjects that most tugged the hearts and purse-strings of collectors were those depicting animals and children, usually with sentimental, pathetic or humorous overtones. Rivière’s paintings were especially appreciated by late-Victorian audiences for the way animals emphasise the portrayal of human emotion, without the tendency to heavy anthropomorphism characteristic of the greatest Victorian animal painter, Edwin Landseer, whose mantle Rivière assumed in the 1870s. His deep knowledge of domestic and wild animals was based on exhaustive anatomical study and from observing dissections.
    In 1896, after the death of John Everett Millais, Rivière narrowly missed being elected president of the Royal Academy, an honour accorded only to pre-eminent academicians. The same year, in an illustrated interview in 'The Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly', the journalist Harry How gave an insight into the artist’s working methods and a description of his ‘workshop’: “It may at once be said that it is not the studio of a Leighton or an Alma Tadema. The floor is utterly devoid of luxurious and costly carpets and rugs. Dogs and horses, sheep and pigs, are not calculated to improve the quality of an expensive carpet, or to add to its lasting capabilities. The floor is elaborately decorated with scratches from many a dog’s paw and horse’s hoof.”
    Many of Rivière's most successful compositions are those in which a single human figure is shown with a dog. This was a formula used for one of Riviere's most celebrated pictures, 'Sympathy' of 1877 (Royal Holloway College), which depicts the artist's daughter Mary seated at the top of a flight of steps, having been banished for some misdemeanour and is comforted by her little dog. 'Compulsory education' captures a more humorous sentiment as a little girl in a white dress with a blue sash attempts to teach her doleful pet to read from the book she holds in her hands, her arms encircling the neck of the huge dog. Rivière was particularly fond of bloodhounds and featured them prominently in several of his paintings, including the Gallery’s 'Requiescat' in which a loyal dog stands guard at the side of a dead knight.
    Despite the obviously humorous appeal of 'Compulsory education', the title refers to a Victorian social issue that had been debated widely both in and outside parliament in England, namely the progressive introduction of basic education and school attendance for all children between the ages of 5 and 10, which first became effectively compulsory with the Elementary Education Act in 1880.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 15 publications

  • Provenance

    Stephen G. Holland, pre 25 Jun 1908, London/England, Sold at his posthumous sale Christie's London 25, 26 & 29 June 1908 (this lot 25 June), no 99. Purchased at this sale by Agnew, London, for 262 gns. Sold on the same day to ‘Captain Holland’, probably one of Stephen Holland’s sons.

    Richard Green Gallery, pre 16 Dec 2010, London/England, Sold at 'Victorian & Edwardian art, including masterpieces', Sotheby's London, 16 Dec 2010, lot 32. Purchased at this sale by Warren Halloran, for GBP 115,250.

    Warren Halloran, 16 Dec 2010-03 Jan 2020, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia

Other works by Briton Rivière