19th Century

William Windus’ “The Outlaw” (1861)

Robin Hood has always been popular, in that he has always been a people’s hero. But rarely does he make forays into ‘high’ culture. The expensive three volume novels which were aimed at the middle classes, such as Ivanhoe (1819), Thomas Love Peacock’s Maid Marian (1822), Thomas Miller’s Royston Gower (1838), and G. P. R. James’ Forest Days (1843) do not feature him in the title, although he is the hero of the narratives. Most likely this is a result of writers’ and publishers’ fears of casting an outlaw as the hero. In fact, Robin only got his first novel title when Pierce Egan the Younger, in a penny dreadful (incidentally aimed at the working classes) entitled Robin Hood and Little John (1838-40).

While Robin does feature prominently in literature (if not always in the titles of those works), one area he is, with one or two exceptions, altogether absent from is paintings. Daniel Maclise painted a scene from Ivanhoe in 1839, but images of Robin Hood have tended to be consigned to children’s book illustrations in the nineteenth century, or crude woodcuts on penny broadsides in the seventeenth and eigheenth centuries.

It is even more striking that Robin makes no appearance in the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites. From 1849 onwards the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood led the way in Victorian medievalism. [2] The Pre-Raphaelites rejected classicist artistic conventions which, they thought, began with Raphael, and aimed to return art to what it was like before Raphael and Michelangelo; hence the ‘Pre’ in ‘Pre-Raphaelite’. For many of their paintings they took inspiration from (though not exclusively) medieval subjects; for example, William Holman Hunt painted The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro in 1848, which is based upon John Keats’ poem The Eve of St. Agnes (1819).

180px-William_Lindsay_Windus-Self-portraitWilliam Windus – Self Portrait (Source: Wikipedia)

The founding members of the PRB were Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), John Everett Millais (1829-1896), and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910). They were later joined in their endeavours by William Michael Rossetti (1819-1919), James Collinson (1825-1881), Frederic George Stephens (1827-1907) and Thomas Woolner (1825-1892), while their principles were shared by others such as Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893).

Another group which were influenced by the principles of Pre-Raphaelites was the Liverpool School of Painters. And from this school was William Windus (1822-1907) who painted The Outlaw in 1861 (see header image). The scene is a medieval greenwood, and the figure of a woman cradles the head of an injured man. The woman turns her head slightly to the side, and appears to look apprehensive. The outlaw and his woman are probably being chased by the authorities, signified by the fact that a bloodhound is running down the hill after them.

The main feature of the painting is the landscape, and the two human figures are almost slipping out of the picture. In the Robin Hood tradition, outlaws are always associated with the natural world. The natural world represents freedom from the laws of men and freedom from mainstream society. [3] Although evidently in this scene, the unjust world of men has begun to encroach upon the outlaw world.

To me, and readers here may disagree, while the title of the painting does not blatantly say that the two figures are supposed to be Robin Hood and Maid Marian, I think they are. Which other outlaw in popular imagination would have had a woman caring him for him the way that the woman in the picture is caring for the outlaw? The one thing which complicates this reasoning, however, is the fact that there is no comparable scene in the Robin Hood tradition.

There is nothing in Windus’ life to suggest that he was a fan of the Robin Hood tradition, and his life appears to have been the model of Victorian respectability. His wife died the year after the painting was completed, leaving Windus a single father. A brief biography [4] of him states that after the death of his wife, and being of some independent means, he wholly abandoned painting. He died in 1907 and The Outlaw can now be seen in Manchester Art Gallery. The Pre-Raphaelites never touched Robin Hood, but if Windus’ painting was intended to refer to Robin Hood, this is the only example of Pre-Raphaelite medievalism that does


[1] William Windus The Outlaw (1861) Manchester Art Gallery Oil on Canvas Accession No. 1937.28 [Internet <<http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-outlaw-206425>&gt; Accessed 20 March 2016].
[2] Chris Brooks, The Gothic Revival (Phaidon, 1999), 283.
[3] Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003), 13.
[4] Bob Speel, ‘William Windus’ [Internet <http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/speel/paint/windus.htm&gt; Accessed 20 March 2016].

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