Lot 11
  • 11

Sir George Clausen, R.A., R.W.S., R.I.

Estimate
10,000 - 15,000 USD
Sold
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Description

  • Sir George Clausen, R.A., R.W.S., R.I.
  • The End of a Winter's Day
  • signed G. CLAUSEN and dated 1885 (lower left)
  • watercolor heightened with white on card
  • 10 1/8 by 7 1/8 in.
  • 25.7 by 18.1 cm

Provenance

John L. Laird, Esq., London (and sold, his sale, Christie's, London, May 1, 1913, lot 184, as The Woodman's Return, sold together with Preparing Tea)
Fraser (acquired at the above sale)
Mary Pickford, Santa Monica, California (and sold, her estate, The J.M. Goodman Auction Gallery, Glendale, California, March 13-15, 1981, lot 1018, illustrated, as Monochrome Grey Watercolor by the Artist George Clausen, A.R.A)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Literature

"The Grosvenor Gallery," The Magazine of Art, London, 1885, p. 328, illustrated
Wilfrid Meynell, ed., The Modern School of Art, vol. IV, n.d. (circa 1887), p. 133, illustrated
Kenneth McConkey, George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life, Edinburgh, 2012, p. 217, under note 102

Catalogue Note

While it is clear, crisp and easy to read, the present exceptionally fine grisaille watercolor is a work of great complexity. George Clausen’s engagement with the subject over a period of three years, like Jean-François Millet’s lengthy treatment of gens du bois, amounts almost to an obsession. At the same time, the present picture draws attention to a new phenomenon— namely, the growing importance in the 1880s of the reproducible image. It was made to be transcribed by an engraver named C. Streller, who was employed by the firm of Cassell & Co., London, publishers of The Magazine of Art. Contemporary photographs indicate that it accurately represents Clausen’s principal exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1885, of the same title, an important early oil painting that remains unlocated.1 The subject, an old woodman and boy, is one that was established in the oeuvre three years earlier in a small oil painting entitled, Going Home (fig. 1). It was painted not long after the painter’s marriage and removal from London to neighboring Hertfordshire, where he and his wife rented a house on the Toulmin estate at Childwick Green.2 In the countryside around him, as elsewhere in Europe, one of the field laborer’s winter tasks was to thin the woods and forests, clearing ferns, brambles, saplings and broken boughs. The purpose was not only to provide kindling, but also to let in more light to strengthen the woodland trees, and provide space for grazing sheep and goats in the warmer months.

In Going Home, the man in the foreground carries a broken branch while the child walks by his side with a small bundle.3 Thereafter Clausen reworked the subject in two etchings, making a detailed drawing dated 1884 for the larger plate.4 In this the boy is brought into the foreground and the figures move from right to left, as in the present watercolor.5 So satisfactory was this arrangement that with some alteration to the background, and minor details such as changing the boy’s hat, Clausen embarked on The End of a Winter’s Day in the winter of 1884-85. Two further tasks were required before the painting went on display at Sir Coutts Lindsay’s celebrated Grosvenor Gallery. One was a vivid shorthand black and white sketch of the picture for reproduction in Henry Blackburn’s Grosvenor Notes  but this was never used probably because the second, more detailed work was already in preparation as the basis of an engraving for The Magazine of Art. In this — the present work — the background is more clearly defined and, in the most delicate touches of Chinese white, the new moon and stars are added in the sky. The work was taken as a statement of Clausen’s strong individuality and in reproducing it, the magazine’s editor, W.E. Henley, found an excuse to rail against the Royal Academy which was slipping further and further into the past.6

Three important precedents need to be considered in relation to Clausen’s conception. One is Millet’s dramatic drawing of the Old Woodman, reproduced in Alfred Sensier’s monograph (1881); the second is Fred Walker’s The Wayfarers, 1869 (formerly Leverhulme Collection), a picture of a boy leading a blinded war veteran along a country lane; and the final, and more recent, rendering of the theme is Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Le Père Jacques (1881-82, Milwaukee Art Museum) a larger and more literal depiction of an old woodman and child.7 While Clausen would popularly be associated with the latter, he was unwilling to sacrifice the atmospheric qualities of Millet and Walker. It was their sense of overall "envelopment," of evening light played through the trees, down to the muddy boots of the woodcutter that, for contemporary critics, gave the work both documentary authenticity and poetic truth, and which is tellingly conveyed in the present work.

By the time the finished painting was on show, Cassell & Co. had commissioned a handsome four volume survey of The Modern School of Art from its editor, Wilfrid Meynell, and for this, the present image would be re-used. In his chapter on Clausen, Meynell described The End of a Winter’s Day as a "patient landscape of the poor." "For undemonstrative expression," he concluded, "Mr. Clausen has done nothing better than this pair of peasants, old and young, in surroundings so poetically conceived."8

As in Lepage, youth and age was his true winter’s day meditation. By this stage the painting had travelled to Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery for its Autumn Exhibition where it appears to have been sold in October 1885, but has since disappeared.9 Its fine quality is however well preserved in the present watercolor.

We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for preparing this catalogue entry.



1 A contemporary photograph of the painting made in 1885 exists in the collection of the artist’s descendants

2 For a fuller account of this area and period, see Mary Toulmin, (Lady Carbery), Happy World, The Story of a Victorian Childhood, 1941; see also, Christine Aitken, Childwickbury, 2011 (Privately Printed)

3 McConkey, 2012, p. 50, fig 61

4 Related drawings, prints and the large plate are in a private collection, while a further drawing is in the Royal Academy collection. A separate painted version of the boy, given to the artist’s friend, John Pedder, (McConkey, 2012, p. 66, illustrated pl. 90) is also in a private collection, while a further study of the boy’s head is contained in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. A head study of the woodman, also the subject of an etching, remains unlocated.

5 McConkey, 2012, p. 65, figs 90-91

See "The Grosvenor Gallery," London Evening Standard, June 12, 1885, p. 2; "Current Art I," The Magazine of Art, 1885, p. 328

7 For Millet’s woodman see Alfred Sensier, Jean-François Millet, Peasant and Painter, 1881, illustrated opposite p. 97; Fred Walker’s The Wayfarers, also the subject of a widely circulated etching, was greatly admired by Vincent Van Gogh; while Bastien-Lepage’s Le Père Jacques, exhibited at the Salon of 1882, was transferred to London to be shown at Tooth’s Gallery in November 1882. For a fuller account of "woodman" subject matter encompassing the work of Alphonse Legros, Léon Lhermitte and others, see Kenneth McConkey, "Dejection’s Portrait: Naturalist Images of Woodcutters in Nineteenth Century Art," Arts Magazine, April 1986, p. 81-7.  

8 Wilfrid Meynell ed., The Modern School of Art, vol IV, n.d. [circa 1887], p. 133, illustrated; quoted in McConkey, 2012, p. 65-6.

9 Entry in the artist’s account book. Strangely, however, the work appears in the Goupil stockbooks in March 1887 and is listed as "non vendu"

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