Hayes Common

Gateway to British Art Prize 2022
Runner-up: Youssra Al Mtit

It is, at first glance, a beautiful and realistic oil painting of a young girl taking a nature walk. The artwork uses light and bold colors that pop out and give you a sense of delight. The painting mostly consists of trees and grass that are gentle shades of green. The sky is light blue, and overall, it is a nice sunny day. This tells me the painting was set sometime during the summer, when everything is flourishing. When we look at the young girl, she is also wearing light colors on her clothing and hat. The girl’s cheeks are rosy and pink, and her smile is slight but noticeable. She is joyful to go on an adventure of her own choosing and enjoys living happily. 

When I looked closely, I realized something odd about the girl. She isn’t walking on the path that is right next to her. She’s walking alongside the path, and this path is also a very long one. Following the path down, we see that it goes back to a faraway field. I believe the path could represent what path the girl is taking in life. A long path could represent a long life, but the girl is still young. I think that is because she has recently decided to stray away from the path she was taking and is now creating her own way, creating a sense of freedom for her. She holds a basket of what I would think is experience with her. Experience from the path she has already walked to help her navigate through a new one. 

Another prominent feature of the painting is one oddly large tree, which is way larger than any of the rest. This tree also casts a very large shadow. This shadow is placed right behind the young girl. I would guess the girl has just stepped out of the shadow and is now greeted by the warm sun. However, the shadow she has just stepped out of blocked the sun from getting to her. This shadow mirrors a dark time for the young girl. The tree that cast this shadow is one unlike any other, a time in her life that was unlike any other. It may have been a problem large enough to lead her away from the path she was taking or a problem that she needed to face to feel the sun again but also choose her own direction. It’s possible that it was neither. It’s possible a problem was created by taking a different path. Sometimes a different path, one that wasn’t put in front of you, when you did not choose where you are heading and where your path ends, is harder to take, which means that it may cause you trouble, having to find your way out of the shadow.

Nonetheless, it grants you the freedom of choice. It shows us how sometimes we cannot achieve happiness without sacrifice and trouble. I would still like to remember how the young girl may have gotten through the shadow, but she still has one behind her wherever she goes. No matter the path, there will always be difficult situations right behind you, but focusing on where you would like to go next will help us remember the struggles we went through to get to the other side: Hayes, a settlement in open land covered with rough bushes. William Henry Millais wanted us to understand that the freedom of open land will still come with rough shrubs, which is common for all of us.

Top image
William Henry Millais, Hayes Common (detail), 1852 to 1853, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection