King Robin

King Robin

‘From the Land of Nuts and Grapes’ is a collection of folktales from Spain and Portugal, published in 1888 . ‘King Robin’ is about a boy called ‘Sigli’ who enjoys cruelly killing and hurting animals. Led by King Robin, the animals join together and carry out their revenge against him.

At first glance the animals uniting to overcome a powerful and exploitative force give this story a universal message of revolution and democracy. It appeals to adults who are dissatisfied with the establishment or oppressed in any way, also speaking to children as smaller and weaker than those who surround them.

However this story has a more complex moral ambiguity. The wartime setting and double standards of various human protagonists militate against simple conceptions of right and wrong. We learn that Sigli is brought up without a mother, by a father who is a thief, who aids a corrupt king in warding off barbaric religious invaders: all of whom are murderers. It is meaningful that in the animals retribution they choose to kill the boy by using the very same cruel traps of bird lime that he uses on them, becoming vicious murderers themselves. This ‘eye for an eye’ philosophy of justice brings all the characters in the story to the same base level.

As there is an excuse or explanation behind every character’s vice the story discusses the subjective
nature of right and wrong. It suggests that perhaps we should should live by good examples to break ever-repeating cycles of violence.

The painting depicts Sigli kneeling down in the yellow sand of a bull fighting ring as a further reminder of man’s complicated relationship with death – another example of how killing can be rationalised through cultural perspectives and situations. The monkeys, who gather the berries needed to make bird lime, and the wolves, who dig his grave, are painted around him in an uneasy crowd with small flashes of red to hint at their menace.


Oil on wooden panel
Width 115cm
Height 123cm