The Hop-Gardens of England is a large canvas, painted during the summer and autumn of 1874 on location in Wrotham in Kent, where the artist used a barn as a studio. It shows a rolling landscape with rows of burgeoning hops dwarfing a pilgrim-like figure in the foreground. A plough sits on a hill in the foreground, while oast houses and other farm buildings are detailed in the background. While the composition was influenced by Rubens’s A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning c.1636 (National Gallery, London), the brushwork is atypically bold and vigorous and is more suggestive of much later painting than the picturesque detailing that had come to characterise the English school.
The Hop-Gardens of England was widely reviewed following its first public appearance at McLean’s Gallery in Haymarket, London in 1875. Although the painting was rejected by the Royal Academy that year, it was accepted the following year and hung on the line in a prominent position. In his memoir of the artist published in 1883, Edmund Gosse recalled: ‘So huge a picture, the work of a young man, could not be better placed at the Academy, and Cecil Lawson’s name began once more to be mentioned among artists, although the picture came back upon his hands unsold.’ (Gosse 1883, p.25.) The artist subsequently repainted parts of the work and exhibited it at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1879 with the title Kent. When it was exhibited for the second time at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883, in a posthumous exhibition of the artist’s work shared with Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema (1836–1912), it had these lines from a sixteenth-century air, The Jovial Man of Kent, appended to it in the catalogue:
Let Frenchmen boast their straggling vine,
Which gives them drafts of meagre wine;
It cannot match this plant of mine
When autumn skies are blue’
Thus said the jovial man of Kent
As through his golden hops he went.
The painting was exhibited seven times between 1875 and 1897, including in Chicago in 1893. It was widely reviewed in the press and noted for its strange, sensational qualities which seemed highly experimental for the period. It has come to be regarded as Lawson’s best known work.
Edmund Gosse, Cecil Lawson: A Memoir, London 1883.
Adrian Bury, ‘Cecil Lawson, Landscape Painter 1849–1882’, The Connoisseur, vol.114, no.494, December 1944, pp.78–84.
Burne-Jones, The Pre-Raphaelites and their Century, exhibition catalogue, Peter Nahum, London 1989.