Pickaback is one of the old, old games which no one is so foolish as to try to trace to its origin. We may well believe that there was never a time when mothers did not trot their children on their knees and carry them on their backs. The very names we give these childish games were used in England more than a century ago.

The picture of Mrs. Payne-Gallwey and her child has long been known as Pickaback, and will always be so called by many who would not be at the pains to remember the lady's name. It is one of those portraits in which the painter, impatient of the stiff conventional attitudes which were in vogue in his day, drew his inspiration from a simple homely theme of daily life.

What an ingenious painter Reynolds was, we learn more and more as we examine one picture after another and compare them with those of his predecessors. He liked to have his pictures tell stories, and often, when he had a mother and child to paint, he represented them as playing together just as they might have done every day in their own nursery or garden.[14] The Duchess of Devonshire is seen in her boudoir trotting her baby to Banbury Cross, and the Cockburn children are surprised in a game of hide-and-seek on their mother's lap.

[14] Claude Phillips refers to Pickaback as "one of the most popular and representative" of this class.

Mrs. Payne-Gallwey seems to have just caught her little girl up on her back and to be starting off to give her a ride. Her body is bent slightly forward in the attitude of one walking with a burden, and we almost seem to see her move. It is as if in another moment they would pass across the canvas and out of our sight.

The incident is so precisely like something which happens every day that we might think the picture was painted yesterday instead of in 1779, were it not for the few signs which indicate its date. For one thing, the lady's hair is arranged over a high cushion in the peculiar style affected at this period in fashionable circles. The style was carried to absurd extremes, ladies vying with one another in the height of the coiffure until in some cases it actually towered a foot and a half in height. Over this structure were worn nodding plumes of feathers, increasing the fantastic effect.

We may imagine how these unsightly erections vexed the artistic soul of Sir Joshua Reynolds. He was, however, enough of an autocrat to take liberties with the fashions. When obliged to paint the portrait of a lady with a "head" (for so the coiffure was called) he always managed to modify its height and make its outlines harmonize with his composition.


A side view was of course much less objectionable than the full front, in which the face was elongated to such strange proportions. In this case the face is turned in profile, and its delicacy is enhanced rather than injured by the masses of hair which frame it. The hair, instead of being drawn tightly back from the forehead in the ordinary way, waves in graceful curves, which are quite beyond the art of any hairdresser. Finally, the massive effect of the hair is broken by the narrow scarf bound about it and tied under the chin. The curve of this scarf meets the curve of the profile to form a beautiful oval.

The quaintest touch in the picture is the child's big hat. The same shape is worn to-day by men, and one might fancy that the baby had borrowed her papa's hat for the frolic. It is a curious change in fashions which transfers any part of a little girl's wardrobe to that of a grown man.

We may feel a little better acquainted with the mother and daughter to know their names. Mrs. Payne-Gallwey was Philadelphia, the daughter of General De Lancey, Lieutenant Governor of New York. The child was Charlotte, who afterwards married John Moseley. Mrs. Gallwey's beauty is of a very fragile type, and her eyes have a languor hinting of invalidism. Only a few years later she died, while still in her young motherhood. Little Charlotte has a round healthy face, but it is a little sober. Indeed, both mother and child seem to be of a rather dreamy, poetic temperament. Their mood is hardly merry enough for such a game, but they enjoy it in their own way with quiet contentment. It is an idealized version of the ordinary romping game of Pickaback.

The composition is based on lines which cut the canvas diagonally. In one direction is the line running the length of the profile and continued along the bodice. Crossing this at right angles is the shorter line made by the two arms. It is the first of these which gives character to the picture and produces the impression of motion which is so striking. It is almost as if a modern photographer had taken a snap shot of a figure in the act of walking. But in no such photograph, it is safe to say, would the lines chance to flow in such perfect rhythm.