Sir George Clausen

Winter Work


Not on display

Sir George Clausen 1852–1944
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 775 × 921 mm
frame: 1075 × 1212 × 115 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983

Display caption

In the 1880s Clausen devoted himself to painting realistic scenes of rural work after seeing such pictures by the French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-84). In this picture he shows a family of field workers topping and tailing swedes for sheep fodder. It was painted at Chilwick Green near St Albans, where the artist had moved in 1881. He uses subdued colouring to capture the dull light and cold of winter, and manages to convey the hard reality of country work. Such unromanticised scenes of country life were often rejected by the selectors of the Royal Academy annual exhibitions.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03666 WINTER WORK 1883–4

Oil on canvas 30 1/2 × 36 1/4 (775 × 920)
Inscribed ‘G CLAUSEN 1883–4.| CHILDWICK’ b.l. and ‘WINTER
WORK. | G. CLAUSEN. | 1883.’ on the back
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983
Prov:...; anon. sale, Sotheby's 3 November 1982 (37, repr. in col.) £34,100 bt Fine Art Society Ltd, from whom bt by the Tate Gallery
Exh: Grosvenor Gallery 1883 (152)
Lit: Kenneth McConkey, Sir George Clausen, R.A., 1852–1944, exhibition catalogue, Bradford, RA, Bristol, Newcastle, 1980, under nos.32–3; Kenneth McConkey, ‘Figures in a field - Winter work by Sir George Clausen, RA’, Art at Auction, The year at Sotheby's 1982–83, 1983, pp.72–7, fig.7 (col.); Malcolm Warner, ‘Victorian Paintings at the Tate Gallery, Recent Acquisitions’, Apollo, CXXIII, 1986, p.263, fig.9

This is one of the earliest and most impressive of Clausen's essays in ‘rustic naturalism’, a style of painting which he adopted after seeing Bastien-Lepage's pictures of French rural labour, especially ‘Les Foins’ when it was shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1880. The example of John Robertson Reid's ‘Toil and Pleasure’ (1879, Tate Gallery) also helped point Clausen in this new direction, away from his earlier Whistlerian manner.

‘Winter Work’ was painted at Childwick Green, near St Albans, where the artist settled with his wife in 1881. Clausen, who previously lived at Hampstead, later wrote of the move as ‘a liberation’: ‘We went because it was cheaper to live, and there were better opportunities of working. One saw people doing simple things under good conditions of lighting: and there was always landscape. And nothing was made easy for you: you had to dig out what you wanted’ (‘Autobiographical Notes’, Artwork, VII, 1931, p.19). The subject Clausen chose in this case was labourers topping and tailing mangolds for sheep fodder. Pencil studies of the principal man and woman show the latter in a different pose, facing left, from the one finally used in the painting (RA; McConkey 1983, figs.3–4). This earlier version of the woman's pose is more or less repeated in a photograph by Clausen (Royal Photographic Society, Bath; ibid. fig.5) and in an oil sketch of the whole subject, known as ‘December’ (Private Coll.; ibid. fig.6). The latter includes neither the figure of the girl in the foreground nor that of the boy in the background of ‘Winter Work’. A small drawing presumably made by Clausen for Grosvenor Notes on the occasion of the first exhibition of ‘Winter Work’ (but not published) suggests that the girl was in fact added after the exhibition, no doubt in 1884, the latest date given in the inscription on the front of the picture (RA; McConkey 1980, no.33, repr.). Although ‘December’ is regarded here as a preliminary to ‘Winter Work’, Kenneth McConkey has raised the possibility of it having been painted after the larger work (McConkey 1983, p.77, n.5).

A watercolour of 1883, ‘Hoeing Turnips’, is related in composition (exh. Rural and Urban Images, Pyms Gallery 1984, no. 14, repr.) and, like other works by Clausen of this period, uses the same model for the woman.

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

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