Smoking, drinking and the British sweet tooth

The Desert

Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873), 1849
Oil on canvas

Object number 1902.2

See this object at Manchester Art Gallery This object may not always be on display. Please check with the venue before visiting.

The Desert

This painting of a dead lion, also called 'The Fallen Monarch', was painted by Queen Victoria's favourite artist, Sir Edwin Landseer. In his lifetime, Landseer was one of Britain’s most popular artists, much loved by the British public for his sentimental, though closely observed, animal paintings. He is, perhaps, best known now for the four bronze lions that stand guard at the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London.

The lion is traditionally regarded as the national symbol of the British people, symbolising bravery, valour, strength and royalty. It appears on the British coat of arms and is often seen accompanying the figure of Britannia, the personification of Britain as a young woman, which became a potent symbol of British naval power and the dominance of the British Empire during Victoria's reign. One of the ironies of the abolition of the slave trade was that it stimulated the growth of the British Empire. The British lead in abolishing the trade provided a sense of moral superiority over other nations, justifying the expansion of the empire through the civilising influence it could bring to the rest of the world.

Landseer's painting is thought to have provided the inspiration for the logo of Lyle's Golden Syrup, which first appeared in 1885. Abram Lyle founded his sugar refinery in London in 1881. Golden syrup was made from the waste products of the refining process and was immediately popular. The logo on the famous green and gold tins depicts a story from the Old Testament, in which Samson kills a lion and later finds that a swarm of bees has formed a honeycomb in its carcass. It is accompanied by the biblical quote 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness'.

This information was provided by curators at Manchester Art Gallery.


'I was impressed with Landseer's skill, then I found myself examining in my mind's eye the reasons for this picture. I realised I was filled with compassion that this beautiful creature had 'died after a long illness'. I then became angry that he had probably suffered unnecessary pain as in those days there wasn't the knowledge or wish to save its life - so long as it was useful to its owners. I tried then to put myself in his position. Alone, in pain and possibly grieving for his mate and on show for the excitement of onlookers. I felt overwhelmed with grief, I wanted to put out my hand, to comfort and help him and I felt my face awash with tears of deep anguish at his plight. All this had happened through no fault of his own. What wretched people to do this. And I realised that we as a people had not only done this in the animal world, but shamefully also to our fellow man by enslaving them.

We've still a long way to go to redress the wrongs of the world, but we trust, we will when looking at this beautiful beast. Please think and think again, and do something positive for its sake, and the world today in general.'

Alice Campbell, visitor to Manchester Art Gallery, 2007

You can also view more responses to The Desert by going to the interactive artwork Chained Reactions.