This is one of a set of four paintings by Morland recorded in 1897 as in the collection of George Salting (Richardson 1897). The other three, all approximately the same size and all signed and dated, are Gipsy Encampment of 1789, Roadside Inn of 1790, and Cowherd and Milkmaid of 1792. The MMA work is apparently the earliest of the group, the second has disappeared, and the last two are in the Tate Britain, London.
Numerous works by and after Morland depict inns with signs featuring bells. A smaller canvas by Morland, titled The "Bell" Inn (location unknown), shows a village tavern with an oak or chestnut tree encircled by a bench and a freestanding signpost. A drawing by the artist (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) depicts a slightly different building but a similar tree and bench, with the sign hanging from a timber support affixed to the tree trunk. The subject of an engraving by John Raphael Smith after Morland called Return from Market has a sign with a bell above the door (see Richard S. Sabin, George Morland (1763–1804): A Descriptive Catalogue of a Collection of Sixty Colour Prints Engraved after His Paintings, exh. cat., Frank T. Sabin, London, 1935, no. 18).
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Inscription: Signed (lower right): G. Morland. pinx
George Salting, London (in 1897); Collis P. Huntington, New York (until d. 1900; life interest to his widow, Arabella D. Huntington, later [from 1913] Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, 1900–d. 1924; life interest to their son, Archer Milton Huntington, 1924–terminated in 1925)
Ralph Richardson. George Morland's Pictures: Their Present Possessors, with Details of the Collections. London, 1897, p. 74, publishes The "Bell" Inn, 20 x 26 in., signed but undated, with a description which matches the present picture, as one of a set of four belonging to George Salting; the others, all the same size and all signed, are Gipsy Encampment, dated 1789, Country Inn (The Grapes), dated 1790, and Cowherd and Milkmaid, dated 1792 (and engraved).
Bryson Burroughs. "The Collis P. Huntington Collection Comes to the Museum." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 20 (June 1925), pp. 142, 147, ill., as The Bell Inn by Morland.
Diane Perkins. E-mail. June 15, 2004, tentatively identifies two paintings by Morland from the group of four previously in the Salting collection now at Tate Britain: Roadside Inn (1790 NO2641 Bequeathed by Salting 1910) and Cowherd and Milkmaid (1792 NO2640 Bequeathed by Salting 1910); knows of no paintings of The Bell Inn of corresponding size other than the present work; mentions a 10 x 12 in. painting with the same title (location unknown) and a drawing of a related subject, Midday Rest at the Bell Inn (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 202–4, no. 101, ill. (color).