Exhibition catalogue text
88 A Study of Hops c.1811
Watercolour over pencil on laid paper 34.5 x 22.2 (13 5/8 x 8 3/4)
'This place is all in a bustle with the hop-picking', wrote Thomas Uwins in September 1811 to his brother Zechariah from Farnham in Surrey. 'I have made a great many sketches, and propose doing more; that it has never been made more use of by artists is altogether a mystery to me, it is so much superior to any other harvest that we in England have to boast' (Uwins 1858, vol.1, p.35).
Uwins had first started exhibiting at the Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1809, becoming a member in 1810, and by 1811 his studies of gleaners, lacemakers and furze cutters had already hung on its walls. The idea of adding hop-pickers to his range of rustic genre was probably inspired by the example of Joshua Cristall (no.73), who sent a large watercolour depicting a hop harvest to the Society in 1807. Certainly, hop-picking had never been as popular a subject for British artists as the wheat harvest, lacking its religious connotations, and perhaps also because the end product, beer, unlike bread, was a luxury (Payne 1993, p.142). On the other hand, it was the sort of 'national' subject which British artists sought out during the war with France (Hamlyn 1993, p.62). Hops were grown in Kent and Surrey and harvested by temporary workers, usually women and children from the East End of London (Payne 1993, p.19). In addition to this remarkably sensitive and detailed watercolour (and a smaller study) of individual hops, there are sketches by Uwins in the Opp? collection of workers picking and stripping hops.
Observing the hop-pickers in Farnham in 1811, Uwins had contemplated what the 'gathering [of] the vintage on the continent' might be like. In 1817, with peace restored in Europe, he travelled to France to observe the process at first hand. His sketches of the Burgundian grape harvest were used many years later for an elaborate oil, the Vintage in the Claret Vineyards of the South of France, on the Banks of the Gironde, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848 (Tate Gallery, N00387). In the early 1820s he fell back on his skills as an illustrator and painter of watercolour portraits to pay off a bad debt, and between 1824 and 1831 settled in Italy. His extensive correspondence dating from the years in Italy is an important document for the period, and was substantially incorporated into his wife's Memoir of Thomas Uwins RA, 1858. It includes an amusing profile of William Havell (no.87) in Naples, preferring 'a beefsteak with ... gravy ... and a mutton chop that will burn the mouth' to 'figs for his breakfast, and maccaroni ... for his dinner' (Uwins 1858, vol.2, p.124). In 1838 Uwins was elected a Royal Academician, having by this date established a reputation for his Italian genre subjects in oil. In 1845 he was appointed Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures and in 1847 Keeper of the National Gallery.
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.210 no.88, reproduced in colour p.211