Having studied at the South Kensington Schools, the Lambeth School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools, La Thangue's artistic training had already been extensive before he enrolled at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in 1880 to complete his training, studying under the highly respected Jean Leon Gérôme. The move to Paris was a common trend amongst La Thangue's British contemporaries eager to absorb the developments on the Continent. It was the beginning of a more 'cosmopolitan' characteristic of British art from the 1880s, and one denounced by the older generation fearing for the contamination of Britain's artistic identity. Yet for the emerging generation, it was an exciting period of opportunity and development, and La Thangue's experience of the open-air naturalism in the Salon, practised by Bastien-Lepage, Leon Lhermitte and Dagnan Bouveret, was to have a profound impact.
In the 1890s La Thangue was inspired to paint the hardships of rural life. The titles and subjects of pictures such as Some Poor People of 1894 (Dunfermline District Council) and Poverty (private collection), left exhibition visitors in no doubt that life in the countryside could be harsh. In 1895 La Thangue painted one of his greatest works, The Last Furrow (Oldham Art Gallery) which depicts an aged ploughman who has fallen dead at his plough. These paintings followed a tradition of depicting the noble, hard-working peasant life of England. Although they were powerful comments upon modern life, the interest in the theme of hardship and strife was short-lived for La Thangue. Around the turn of the twentieth century his art became more focused on the glory of the countryside and the nobility of the hard-working agricultural labourers. Pictures such as The Gleaners of 1898 (Aberdeen Art Gallery) and Cutting Bracken (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne) capture the strength of female farm-workers. He also depicted the role that children played in the traditional farming practices; Cider Apples of 1899 showed a young boy harvesting in an orchard, whilst Milling Cider Apples of 1905 (private collection) depicted a boy and a woman strenuously working a cider-press. These pictures depict hard work but they are bathed in dappled sunlight, the labour glorified and picturesque. La Thangue spent an increasing amount of time abroad searching for the rural idyll, in Italy where Liguria was a favourite source for inspiration and in the vineyards and fields of France and Spain where the costumes and activities of the peasants suggested the subjects. The continental sunlight could be relied upon better than the changeable British climate. Although the majority of his later exhibits were paintings of life in Italy, he also painted a handful of British scenes, The Farm Pond being among the most beautiful of these.
The Farm Pond captures those idyllic, carefree summer days of childhood - the subject of dolce far niente (sweet idleness) which had been depicted in many guises throughout the nineteenth and early-twentieth century. A young farm-boy is leaning over the clear waters of a stream to float one of his home-made sailing-vessels. He has removed his shoes so that he can paddle after the boats if they get into difficulty. The brilliant sunlight shimmers on the surface of the water and the dry dirt-track where a line of waddling ducks is making their way to their bathing place and a cart-horse rests in the shade of an overhanging tree. In the 1920s La Thangue had painted several pictures of young boys beside streams or ponds, three of which depict them fishing, The Mill Stream of 1923, The Trout of 1925 and A Sussex Stream of 1928. It is likely that The Farm Pond was also painted in the 1920s when La Thangue lived at ‘Orchard Hey’ in the village of Runcton near Chichester. The painting was not exhibited until 1930 when it was included among the five pictures sent to the Royal Academy posthumously, but it is likely that it was painted several years earlier. In a wider sense, The Farm Pond is similar to pictures painted by Stanhope Forbes at this time, the most pertinent example being The Water Rat of 1932, which depicts children fishing by an old bridge over a stream.
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