William Stott was a leading figure among the group of British artists influenced by French naturalism in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. After Manchester School of Art he trained in Paris and exhibited several works at the Paris Salon. He painted this picture in the summer of 1880 during his first visit to Grez-sur-Loing, a picturesque village on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau some fifty miles south-east of Paris. Since the mid-1870s Grez had become home to an international colony of artists that included the American John Singer Sargent, the Scot Arthur Melville and the Irish painter Frank O’Meara, all of whom Stott was on close terms with during his time in France. Like the other paintings Stott produced in Grez that year (La Tricoteuse and Une Rêve de Midi, both private collection), Prince or Shepherd? shows a young woman deep in contemplation. The twelfth-century stone bridge that appears in many paintings produced at Grez can be seen in the distance.
In style and subject matter Stott’s picture shows the influence of the French plein air (open air) painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose work was much admired by British naturalists for its broad brushwork and strong sentiment. However, as the art historian Roger Brown observed in 2003, Stott’s work is more poetic and enigmatic in approach. The title of his painting alludes to the day-dream of the girl and her thoughts about her future: will she marry a rich man and escape the village or will she remain a country girl? While enclosed in by the fences and foliage in the foreground, the broken fence upon which the girl leans also doubles up as a symbolic threshold onto an uncertain future, enhancing the meditative mood of the scene. Stott was to develop this theme in his more ambitious Le Passeur (Tate T14872) of the following year which features possibly the same girl, now a year older. The motif of a girl in blue leaning wistfully on a gate or fence was to become highly influential; it appears, for instance, in George Clausen’s The Girl at a Gate 1889 (Tate N01612) and John Lavery’s Under the Cherry Tree 1884 (Ulster Museum).
La Tricoteuse and Une Rêve de Midi were both exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1881, while Prince or Shepherd? was shown that same year in London at the Grosvenor Gallery. Thereafter it disappeared from public view until it was bought by Roger Temperley in 1928 from an auction in Vichy, France, and then bequeathed to the Tate Gallery in 1939. The picture’s then title Girl in a Meadow was adopted by the Tate until 2017 when it reverted to Stott’s original title for the picture.
Roger Brown, William Stott of Oldham, 1857–1900, ‘A Comet Rushing to the Sun’, exhibition catalogue, Oldham Art Gallery 2003, p.58, reproduced p.59.
Kenneth McConkey, William Stott of Oldham: Le Passeur, exhibition catalogue, Fine Art Society, London 2016, pp.3–7.
N05031 Prince or Shepherd? (Prince ou Berger?) 1880
Inscr. ‘W. Stott. 1880.’ b.l.
Canvas, 28 1/4×22 3/4 (72×57·5).
Presented by Robert Temperley through the National Art-Collections Fund 1939.
Coll: Purchased by the Galerie Lorenceau, Vichy, c. 1928 from an unidentified local furniture sale; purchased from them by Robert Temperley August 1928.
A MS. label on the frame written by Robert Temperley in March 1939 gives the above information about the Galerie Lorenceau, with the additional note that this gallery had no record of the picture's history previous to its purchase by them, nor of its correct title. The Galerie Lorenceau again checked its records (January 1958) and corroborated this information. The canvas bears the stencil of a French colourman, ‘Blanchet’ of Paris, and was obviously painted in France.
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II