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Like its partner, Reapers, this picture presents a wholesome vision of agricultural work.

Stubbs’s painstaking style and his close observation of nature conspire to present an illusion of straightforward ‘realism’. Yet the figures are orchestrated into a sort of rhythmic ballet which presents their labours as graceful rather than full of real effort, and the whole picture is carefully organised in the form of a pyramid. Many contemporaries thought the effect was too contrived: the dominant taste was for more informal-looking pictures of rural life.

September 2004