Harvest Festival is traditionally a time both for celebrating the end of long hours toiling in the fields to bring in the harvest, and giving thanks for the bounty of fruit and grain that has been produced. And for a picture that celebrates plenty, we need look no further than this week’s work.

  • Sir Nathaniel Bacon, 'Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit' circa 1620-5

    Sir Nathaniel Bacon
    Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit circa 1620-5
    Oil on canvas
    unconfirmed: 1510 x 2475 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1995

    View the main page for this artwork

This image of a cook maid surrounded by fruits, flowers and vegetables is not a usual subject for British painters of the 1620s and in fact the artist Sir Nathaniel Bacon was not a professional artist. He may have seen similar works in the Low Countries (now the Netherlands, Belgiumand parts of France and Germany) when he visited in 1613, and possibly brought the idea back with him. What does seem particularly British, though, is the mildly bawdy nature of the scene where the abundance of ripe and rounded fruit and vegetables surrounding the cookmaid serve to echo her voluptuous cleavage.

Every item of produce Bacon included was grown in England at the time, even those we think of as impossible to grow here now: Bacon himself grew melons at his estate in East Anglia. Though not everything would have been in season all at once, Bacon constructs a picture of the great abundance of the field and garden, something to celebrate at any time of the year.