'Cruel to be Kind', North West Frontier, 1878-1880 (c)
Oil on canvas by Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927), 1882.
In the harsh winter conditions on the North West Frontier of India, there was no means of treating a sick or wounded horse. To save it from a lingering and painful death, the officer has to resort to shooting his own mount. It is a moment full of pathos. As he prepares to fire, the injured animal raises its head to look at its master. It seems to know what he is going to do. To create this pose, the artist has elongated the horse's neck and enlarged its head, but the unusual viewpoint helps to disguise these strange proportions. The subject was meant to be seen as heroic as well as tragic, to show that fulfilling duty can sometimes be difficult. Today, the idea of putting a helpless animal out of its misery in this way is more controversial and the painting often arouses quite different emotional reactions.
NAM Accession Number
National Army Museum, Out of Copyright
National Army Museum, Study collection
Browse related themes