As Anne Scott-James explains, the theme of the cottage garden became popular amongst Victorian writers and artists.2 In 1883 William Robinson, born in Co. Down, published The English Flower Garden, and in 1885 Mrs. Ewing published Letters from a Little Garden. Helen Allingham, Myles Birket Foster and Blandford Fletcher painted tranquil, idealized, pictures of cottage gardens, while others painted Naturalistic scenes of girls in cabbage patches. The theme of the garden was also one celebrated by the Impressionist painters in France.
Osborne’s Study from Nature shows a woman pausing from her labours in a vegetable patch. The picture may have been executed in Evesham, Worcestershire, or another part of rural England, in 1884. Yet the stylish straw hat and pink blouse give the picture an exotic touch that could be French.3 The artist takes a low viewpoint and places the figure near the lower right edge of the picture, while much of the composition is taken up by the tree and sky above. As Margaret MacCurtain observes: “Osborne invites the viewer… into a reverie withdrawn from outside distraction”.4
The woman wears a straw hat with tall crown and wide brim, and smart amethyst – coloured blouse, and dark skirt or apron, and she leans upon a wicker basket. Her face is in shadow, but she looks down at the fork stuck into the ground, at the dug earth and potatoes, or at the piece of straw in her right hand. Or perhaps she is lost in her thought. Behind her are a frail wood fence and abundant plants.
Much of the composition is taken up by the tall tree, perhaps with a rustic ladder propped in it. Although working naturalistically Osborne also observes the decorative patterns of the wiry branches and leaves. The branches spread out, so that the sky can be seen behind, then are linked again by the canopy of leaves.
The vegetable patch, wicker basket and rustic fence and ladder, and the subdued but rich colours throughout the picture: warm ochres and reds, silvery greens and yellows, browns, pinks and blue-greens, create a mood of warmth and intimacy. Osborne employs the ‘square-brush’ style in the woman’s costume, the fork handle, tree trunks and sky, and looser dabs of paint in the garden linking the picture surface together.
Study from Nature initially belonged in the collection of Patrick Vincent Duffy (1832-1909), fellow landscapist, and Keeper of the Royal Hibernian Academy.
1Her Garden, c. 1891 shows a girl in straw hat watering plants in a cottage garden (Sale, Adam's, Dublin, 1 June 2001, lot 31)
2Anne Scott-James, The Cottage Garden, London 1981, p. 90-99.
3M. MacCurtain, and C. Kennedy, in America’s Eye, 1996, p. 30 and 121, respectively.
4MacCurtain, op. cit., 1996, p.29.
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