Henry Herbert La Thangue

The Return of the Reapers


Not on display

Henry Herbert La Thangue 1859–1929
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1190 × 695 mm
frame: 1418 × 915 × 82 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

La Thangue was born in Croydon, but he trained in Paris and was particularly inspired by French artists. The work of Gustave Courbet and Jules Bastien-Lepage encouraged him to paint realist rural pictures, and he was also influenced by the Impressionists’ commitment to painting before nature.In France, La Thangue adopted the ‘square brush’ technique used here to striking effect. It allowed him to cover the canvas quickly and to capture fleeting light effects. He painted this work in Norfolk, and characteristically placed the figures against a high horizon, flattening the picture space.

Gallery label, July 2007

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Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas 46 7/8 × 27 3/8 (1190 × 695)
Inscribed ‘H.H. LATHANGUE’ b.l.
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Probably acquired from the artist by Herbert Mitchell; still his in 1933 when lent to RA; ...; acquired from Cooling Galleries by the Fine Art Society Ltd 1968 and sold by them to Arthur Grogan 1972; bt from him by the Tate Gallery
Exh: Commemorative Exhibition of Works by Late Members, RA, January–March 1933 (212); Channel Packet, Fine Art Society Ltd, March–April 1969 (67, repr.); A Painter's Harvest, works by Henry Herbert La Thangue, Oldham Art Gallery, November–December 1978 (5, repr.); Post-Impressionism, RA, November 1979–March 1980 (316, repr.)
Lit: The Tate Gallery 1982–84, Illustrated Biennial Report, 1984, p.37, repr. in col; Malcolm Warner, ‘Victorian Paintings at the Tate Gallery, Recent Acquisitions’, Apollo, cxxiii, 1986, p.263, fig.10

The catalogues of the last three exhibitions listed above state that ‘The Return of the Reapers’ is initialled and dated 1886 on the back. No such inscription could be found when the work was acquired by the Tate Gallery but there seems little reason to doubt that it was once there, perhaps on a label which later became detached.

T03413 was presumably painted in Norfolk, where La Thangue went to live on his return from France in 1884. It was while in France, studying in Paris and painting in Brittany and the Rhone Valley with Stanhope Forbes and Harvard Thomas, that La Thangue adopted the ‘square brush’ technique used with striking effect in this picture. ‘The Return of the Reapers’ also shows La Thangue's characteristic device of placing figures against a high horizon, thereby flattening the picture space. In both this and his use of large square brushes, La Thangue (like other British artists of his generation) was following the example of the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage.

In his catalogue of the 1978 Oldham exhibition, Kenneth McConkey describes La Thangue's ‘A Portrait’ in the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne (exh. 1978, no.6, repr.) as probably a study of the female reaper in T03413. Although not otherwise connected with the latter, this small portrait does seem to be of the same person. McConkey also points out that ‘The Return of the Reapers’ was apparently not exhibited by La Thangue and that it was probably purchased directly from the artist by its first known owner, La Thangue's friend Herbert Mitchell, son of the Bradford textile manufacturer Abraham Mitchell. The Mitchells are portrayed in La Thangue's painting ‘The Connoisseur’ of 1887 (Bradford Art Gallery; exh. Oldham 1978, no.7, repr.).

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


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