N05663 APPLE GATHERERS 1912–13
Canvas, 28×36 1/4 (71·5×92·5).
Presented by Sir Edward Marsh on the reopening of the Tate Gallery 1946.
Coll: Purchased by Sir Edward Marsh from Henry Lamb, who negotiated the sale on behalf of the artist 1913.
Exh: C.A.S., First Public Exhibition in London, Goupil Gallery, April 1913 (152); Twentieth Century Art, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May–June 1914 (351); C.A.S., Paintings and Drawings, Grosvenor House, June–July 1923 (86); Works of Art by Teachers and Students of the Slade School, 1871–1927, University College, June–July 1927 (11); Contemporary British Art, Whitechapel Art Gallery, October–December 1929 (263); Jubilee Exhibition, Bradford, April–July 1930 (210); Venice Biennale, 1932 (British Pavilion, 110); Contemporary Art, Leicester, May–June 1936 (60); Venice Biennale, 1938 (British Pavilion, 67); British Council, Contemporary British Art, Northern Capitals, 1939 (105); Leger Gallery, March–April 1939 (21); British Painting since Whistler, National Gallery, 1940 (132); British Council, Contemporary British Art, North Africa, 1945 (74); Tate Gallery, November–December 1955 (5, repr. pl.1).
Lit: Wilenski, 1924, p.11, repr. pl.4; E. Marsh, A Number of People, 1939, p.359; James Thrall Soby, Contemporary Painters, New York, 1948, p.123; A. Bertram, A Century of British Painting, 1851–1951, 1951, p.105; Spencer, 1961, pp.112, 115, 192; Collis, 1962, pp.36–7, 39–41, 243.
Repr: Rothenstein, 1945, pls.9–10; Rothenstein, 1963, pl.2 (in colour).
Painted at Cookham in 1912–13, ‘Apple Gatherers’ was a Slade Sketch Club subject. The artist pondered for a long time on the fact that he was to do a composition on this theme. He had no wish to produce something based directly on nature. He thought that this picture, on which he had worked for over a year, was a mysterious thing - an achievement of vision - and that it was one of his most important works. There is no conscious reference to Adam and Eve. A drawing for the whole composition now in the Tate Gallery (N06233) is probably the one done at the Slade.
Gilbert Spencer recalls (op. cit., p. 192) that just before his brother died, he told him he had painted ‘Apple Gatherers’ on top of his first attempt to paint a ‘Resurrection’. He also remarks that the right arm and hand of the boy, and the left arm and hand of the girl in the immediate foreground are drawn from the artist's own hands and arms. One might add that the hands and arms of the two apple gatherers who form the central axis of the picture also bear a family resemblance.
X-ray photographs of the painting, taken in October 1961, while not confirming the presence of an entirely different composition underneath N05663, show various pentimenti to the existing work, notably around the upraised hands and arms of the two central figures. The head of the man has also been considerably elongated, and there are minor alterations to some of the heads of the figures on the right. The left arm of the apple gatherer in the right foreground was originally dipping down into a basket instead of, as now, resting bent on the edge of a basket. There is also evidence of a considerable amount of scraping away of underpaint, and of heavy impasto over much of the canvas. This extensive reworking of the composition would also accord with the artist's statement that he spent a year finishing this picture which, with the ‘Nativity’ of 1912 in the collection of University College, London, and Lady Bone's ‘Zacharias and Elizabeth’, is one of his major figure compositions of the years 1910–13.
There appears to be a layer of white priming put over the skeleton of the earlier composition which, having a high lead content, prevents X-ray penetration beyond this priming. However, photographs of the painting taken in strong raking light have revealed the incised outline of the head and shoulders of a female figure, seen upside-down, in the area of the basket and elbow of the right-hand figure in the centre foreground. This figure, Giottesque in conception, corresponds with what Gilbert Spencer could recall of the original composition, which he told the compiler (26 October 1961) consisted of an avenue of cypress trees with the resurrected figures, rather like angels, rising from the trees. The recently discovered outline figure would have been slightly to the left of the apex of the composition. The inspiration for this composition may in part have been some illustrations by Gustave Doré for a children's Bible, which belonged to the Spencer family.
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II