Edward Arthur Walton

Berwickshire Field-workers

1884

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 914 x 609 mm
frame: 1050 x 748 x 65 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1982
Reference
T03447

Summary

This is one of the most important works that Walton produced while working alongside James Guthrie at Cockburnspath in Berwickshire. Walton and Guthrie were both members of the school of artists - including also John Lavery, Joseph Crawhall, George Henry and Edward Atikinson Hornel - known as the Glasgow Boys. Their commitment to realism led them to take an interest in the work of their contemporaries in France, and in particular Jules Bastien-Lepage, who exercised considerable influence on their developing style.

During the early 1880s Walton, along with the rest of the Glasgow Boys, rejected historical subject matter and academic finish and committed himself to painting contemporary, mainly rural subjects, working en plein air. In this work Walton is interested less in emphasising the back-breaking nature of the workers' task than in capturing the overall effect of heat and light. From the length of the sharply-defined shadows, it is evident that the picture was painted near midday in bright sunshine. The rich terracotta soil and the red bonnets give the picture a warmth which is offset by the slate-blue sky and the blue glint of the sickle in the woman's right hand. Walton applies his paints with the characteristic square brushstroke associated with the Glasgow School. The overall composition and handling of this work invite comparisons with Guthrie's A Hind's Daughter (National Gallery of Scotland), painted the previous year. Under the indirect influence of Bastien-Lepage, Guthrie and Walton had been experimenting with painting single figures, set against a high horizon. This creates a steeply foreshortened perspective, emphasising the relative detail of the foreground compared with the looser handling of the background figures.

The fieldworkers in this picture are wearing large bonnets, known as 'uglies', to protect them from the sun. These curious items of headgear were made of cane and cotton, and a piece of material was attached to the bonnet to protect the wearer's back. The woman's face is almost totally invisible, concealed not only by the bonnet but by a large coloured handkerchief tied beneath her chin. She is wearing clogs on her feet and a protective apron or 'brat' over her striped skirt.

The rich colour of this work is unusual for Walton, who generally worked in more muted tones. Shortly after painting this picture, he abandoned oil as a medium and worked entirely in watercolours.

Further reading:
Roger Billcliffe, The Glasgow Boys, London 1985, pp.132, reproduced pl.131, p.142, in colour.

Frances Fowle
November 2000

Display caption

The curious bonnets worn by the field workers are called 'uglies'. Made of a cane framework with cotton stretched over it, they were used to protect the wearer from the sun. They were worn both in Scotland and south of the border, and were still in use well into the twentieth century.
The artist has used the square brush and short horizontal strokes that were characteristic of many of the rural naturalists. Walton was one of the group of Scottish artists that included Guthrie, Lavery and Hornel, who were known as the 'Glasgow Boys'. They exhibited at the NEAC as allies of the Impressionist clique, but resigned after an argument.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

T03447 Berwickshire Field-workers 1884

Oil on canvas 35 7/8 × 24 (914 × 609)

Inscribed ‘E.A.Walton.84.’ b.r.

Purchased from the Fine Art Society (Grant-in-Aid) 1982

Prov: Christie Brothers (latterly owners of Messrs Guthrie and Wells, Glasgow furnishers and stained glass manufacturers)

The field-workers are wearing head-dresses of cane and cotton known as ‘uglies’. These bonnets were worn on both sides of the Border for protection against the sun. A piece of material was attached to the bonnet to protect the wearer's back.

Helen Weller in the E.A. Walton exhibition catalogue, Bourne Fine Art, Edinburgh, 1981, wrote

The subject matter [in Walton's work] is incidental, he was essentially a painter of atmosphere and the figures are used as punctuation in the composition or points of light in the chromatic scheme.


Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986