Walter Frederick Osborne.

Walter Frederick Osborne

My featured artist today is Walter Frederick Osborne, the Irish impressionist and post-impressionist landscape and portrait painter. He was born on June 17th, 1859 at 5 Castlewood Avenue in Rathmines, an inner suburb on the southside of Dublin, about 3 kilometres south of the city centre. He had two brothers and a sister, Violet. He was the second of three sons of Anne Jane Woods and her husband, William Osborne, an acknowledged animal painter whose speciality was portraits of horses and dogs owned by wealthy landowners. Walter Frederick Osborne, known as Frederick Osborne for the first twenty-five years of his life, attended the local school at Rathmines.

A Glade in the Phoenix Park by Walter Frederick Osborne (1880 )

Having realised that money could be made from painting, Frederick wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and become an artist. So, once he had completed his schooling in 1876, seventeen-year-old Frederick, enrolled on an art course at the Royal Hibernian Academy School. Osborne made an impact straight away, exhibiting in the RHA annual show in his first year. He won numerous medals and prizes including the Albert prize in 1880 with his painting, A Glade in the Phoenix Park.

In 1881 he attended Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten van Antwerpen (Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp), where one of his tutors was the Belgian painter Michael Charles Verlat. Whilst studying there he won the Royal Dublin Society Taylor Art Award in 1881 and 1882, which awarded him an annual bursary. This was the highest student honour in Ireland of the time and given annually to a graduate of an Irish art college or an Irish art student graduating from an art college abroad to assist them with the development of their career as a visual artist.

A Flemish Farmstead by Walter Frederick Osborne (1882)

Osborne sent back to the Royal Hibernian Academy a number of paintings he completed whilst attending the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. One was his 1882 work, A Flemish Farmstead, and this exhibited by the Academy the following year, just after Osborne had been elected an Associate Member. From his earliest days, Osborne was interested in painting farmyards such as the one above. His scenes usually included one or two figures. However, this work is slightly subtler for he merely suggests that the farmyard is a working one by including the jacket that hangs on the open door and the clogs that stand against the wall. Being a great believer that detail is important, he has even depicted the clogs standing on end, suggesting that they are that way so as to allow them to drain after a wet morning in the fields.

Apple Gathering by Walter Frederick Osborne (1883)

He completed his studies in Antwerp in 1883 and travelled to the Breton artists’ colony at Quimperlé. Osborne soon realised that the most noteworthy modern painters were painting en plein air and were using ordinary local people as their models and the Breton fishing villages had a plethora of such willing characters. It was at Quimperlé that he completed his famous Apple Gathering painting which is now housed in the National Gallery of Ireland. The painting depicts a young girl dressed in a peasant costume holding a long stick, busily shaking branches of an apple tree to loosen the ripe fruit. Looking behind her, we see another young girl picking up the fallen apples which are scattered around the orchard. In the background we see the church of Quimperlé which was the subject of many of the artists residing at the town’s artist colony. The painting can now be found in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.

Estuary at Walberswick by Walter Frederick Osborne (c.1885)

Walter Osborne along with two fellow Irish artists, who were part of the Quimperlé artist’s colony, Drogedha-born Nathaniel Hill and Galway-born Augustus Nicholas Burke eventually left the Breton town and returned to England and headed for another artist’s colony at the Suffolk coastal village of Walberswick, where one of the artists was Philip Wilson Steer, who had studied at the École des Beaux Arts under Alexandre Cabanel, during which time he became a follower of the Impressionist school. Steer would become a leading figure in the Impressionist movement in Britain.

Feeding the Chickens by Walter Frederick Osborne (1885)

At the start of 1884, Walter Osborne’s early paintings often featured young children accompanied by animals, often their pets. One of his most famous works of this genre came about whilst Walter Osborne along with his fellow young artists Nathaniel Hill and Edward Stott, another former École des Beaux Arts student, travelled through the English countryside, on sketching trips. That October, the trio had arrived at North Littleton, near Evesham, Worcestershire and the painting which evolved from his visit here was the work entitled Feeding the Chickens. The oil on canvas painting measured 36 x 28 inches (92 x 71cms). In the work, we see a young but confident girl, with her earnest expression, scattering corn for the chickens. She is Bessie Osborne, (no relation to the artist), the daughter or maybe a servant in the substantial house which we see in the background. In Osborne’s preparatory sketch for this work, there was another figure, a gardener with his wheelbarrow, but he was not transferred to the finished painting. Presumably Osborne thought his inclusion would detract from the main focus of the work, the girl.

The Irish art historian Jeanne Sheehy’s biography of Osborne quotes from his letter to his father, dated October 12th, 1884, about the details of the work. In a letter to his father he set the scene for the painting:

“…’The weather, I am sorry to say has been bitterly cold the last week, so much so that my model nearly fainted and I had to send her home … It will probably seem funny to you all that my model’s name should be Bessie Osborne …”

The young girl is wearing an embroidered bonnet and holding a basket of grain, surrounded by a brood of hens. A further insight into the making of this painting can be found in the letter:

“…Now I am pretty far advanced on a kit-kat of a girl in a sort of farmyard, a rough sketch on the opposite page will indicate the composition. The figure of the girl which is a little over two feet high is coming towards finish, but the immediate foreground with poultry is merely sketched in as yet. The fowl are very troublesome, and I have made some sketches but will have to do a lot more as they form rather an important part of the composition…”

Also, in the letter to his father Walter asks him to look through his sketches he had done whilst at Quimperlé and find any of chickens which may help with this painting.

Winter Work by George Clausen (1883)

During his travels around the English countryside, Rural Naturalism became his favoured genre. He had been influenced by the works of the French painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose works were dominating the Paris Salon and it was this type of work which Osborne preferred to the themes from history or mythology which were taught in the Academies of Europe. Another influence on Osborne was another Naturalist painter, the English artist George Clausen.

The Return Of The Flock by Walter Frederick Osborne (1885)

From 1883 and for the next fifteen years Osborne spent the summers wandering around the South of England often visiting the area of the beautiful Berkshire Downs or the area around the Hampshire market town of Romsey or the Suffolk coastal villages. Once asked why he did not spend his summers in Ireland he said that it was cheaper to live in England and it rained less which was important as he wanted to paint en plein air. Osborne was not looking for spectacular landscape which he could have found in the West of Ireland, the Lake District or Scotland. His preference was for the sedate beauty of rural villages with their well-stocked picturesque cottage gardens, often his paintings would include farmyard animals such as sheep. Like the French Impressionists, Osborne was fascinated by the effect of light and how it changes during every hour of the day.

Portrait of Mrs Chadwyck-Healey and her Daughter by Walter Frederick Osborne (1900)

Walter Osborne was elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1883 and became a full member in 1886. Although Osborne spent the summers travelling around the southern English countryside he would return to the family home in Dublin during the winter months.  In 1886, following his election to the Royal Hibernian Academy he received many commissions for portraits and from 1892 onwards, Osborne’s main output changed from landscape work to portraiture. These portraiture commissions were essential to Osborne for his financial survival and that of his parents who relied heavily upon him. Osborne’s permanent move to Dublin in 1892 was prompted by the death of his sister Violet whose newly-born baby was given into the care of Osborne’s aged parents and he had to take on the task of looking after her daughter. His portraiture and landscape works had become so popular and because he received more and more commissions he decided that working from home was not feasible and so acquired his own studio in St Stephens Green in 1895.

Mrs. Noel Guinness And Her Daughter Margaret by Walter Frederick Osborne (1900)

One of his best-known portraits was entitled Mrs Noel Guinness and her Daughter Margaret and this was exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 and which received the bronze medal. The painting depicts Mary Guinness (née Stokes), the wife of Richard Noel Guinness, and her four-year-old daughter Margaret.

The Old Fountain, Madrid by Walter Frederick Osborne (1895)

In 1895 he and his friend, the art historian and writer, Walter Armstrong, toured around Spain, where Walter completed a number of watercolour drawings and oil sketches. The following year the two men travelled to Holland where he completed a number of Amsterdam canal scenes.

Dublin Streets a Vendor of Book by Walter Frederick Osborne (1889)

During this time Walter Osborne put together a series of paintings depicting Dublin street scenes, which some time later were exhibited at the Royal Academy. Osborne made pencil sketches and took photographs of the street scenes and then completed the series in oils in his studio. Probably the most famous of the paintings in this series was Dublin Streets: A Vendor of Books which he completed in 1898.  The painting depicts a bookseller’s stall, set up on Eden Quay, looking eastwards towards the O’Connell Bridge. We see a mother leaning against the wall holding a very young child in her arms. She has a fatigued and nervous look about her. By her side, on the floor, there is a basket of daffodils. What is her story? Is she in any way connected to the bare-footed girl who has moved towards the customers who are perusing the books at the vendor’s stall? The little girl has a small bunch of daffodils in her hand which she is holding up to the customers. She has been sent by the lady, maybe her mother, to try and get a few pence for the flowers. It is a painting full of movement from the horse drawn carriages we see crossing the bridge to the barge making its way down the River Liffey about to pass under the bridge. These realistic paintings of street life in Dublin, although in great demand now and a good historical record of the times past, were not as successful then as his portraiture.

Greystones by Walter Frederick Osborne (1884)

Osborne did not forsake his landscape work completely and one his Impressionist-style works, completed around 1898, was entitled Greystones. It is a somewhat moody study 0f the quayside of Greystones, a small coastal fishing village in County Wicklow. In the painting we see a number of fishing boats tied up to the harbour quayside, some of which have the sails unfurled. In the background there are a number of cottages. His use of muted colours and tones such as his mauves, pinks, pale greys and browns induce a sense of soft light. Look how Osborne has cleverly depicted the diffused sunlight on the gable ends of the cottages and again with the way he has represented it with the silvery flickering of the water with its reflections.

Tea In The Garden by Walter Frederick Osborne (1902)

In 1900 Osborne was offered a Knighthood in recognition of his services to art and his distinction as a painter, but he refused the honour. His mother became ill in the early 1900s, and Walter spent long periods looking after her. In 1902 he started to paint what was to be his last picture, Tea in the Garden, which remained unfinished at the time of his death. It was a beautiful work, a juxtaposition of his favoured Impressionism and Naturalism.

Self-portrait by Walter Frederick Osborne

In 1903, after a strenuous time gardening, he became ill, which he tried to ignore but which developed into double pneumonia. He died aged forty-three, at the family home in Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, Dublin, on April 24th 1903, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. Walter Frederick Osborne never married and left considerable savings behind him. He was one of the most sought after and talented Irish artists of his time.

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Sir George Clausen. Part 2 – More rural works and the War artist

Sir George Clausen       1852 - 1944
Sir George Clausen
1852 – 1944

In this concluding part looking at the life and works of George Clausen, later Sir George Clausen, I will focus on his love of depicting workers labouring in the fields in a genre of art which was often referred to as rustic naturalism and have a look at a couple of works he completed whilst he was employed as a war artist.

Agnes Mary Webster by George Clausen (1882)
Agnes Mary Webster by George Clausen (1882)

In 1881 George Clausen married Agnes Mary Webster of Kings Lynn and they went on to have three sons and a daughter.  Clausen had met her brother, Alfred, at South Kensington Art School where he was also studying art.  The following year Clausen painted his wife’s portrait.

Henry La Thangue, an English landscape painter, who had visited Brittany to paint and was a friend of Stanhope Forbes, another landscape artist, persuaded Clausen to take a trip there to discover the countryside and light the French area had to offer.  And so, in 1882, Clausen sett off for Brittany with his wife and visited the artist colony at Quimperlé, a small town, fifteen kilometres east of the other popular haven for artist, Pont Aven.   Here they met up with the Dublin-born artist, Stanhope Forbes who, two years later, moved to Newlyn in Cornwall and became a leading figure in that growing colony of artists.  Stanhope Forbes was excited that Clausen was to join him at Quimperlé writing to his mother in September 1882:

“…Thangue tells me he is sending G.Clausen the painter and his wife.  Very glad as he is a really good painter in fact belongs to the sacred band whom even I admire…”

 It was whilst here that Clausen produced a number of wonderful paintings depicting local peasant farm workers and their families.

Peasant Girl Carrying a Jar, Quimperlé by George Clausen (1882)
Peasant Girl Carrying a Jar, Quimperlé by George Clausen (1882)

One such work was entitled Peasant Girl Carrying a Jar, Quimperlé which he completed in 1882.  This is a portrait of a young girl seen standing in a field, hand on hip, holding an earthenware pot.  She is dressed in a peasant costume, the quality of which indicates that she is from a family of limited means.  She is surrounded by tall spherical flowering onion plants. It is interesting to look closely at the way Clausen has depicted the pose of the young girl.   This is not the pose of a professional model.  This is a peasant girl displaying the uncomfortable pose of a young child, which makes the image of her appear so realistic.  There is no harshness about the way Clausen has depicted her facial expression.  It is a face that exudes gentleness.  What must be going through the child’s mind as she poses for this foreigner, the artist?

The Return to the Fields by George Clausen (1882)
The Return to the Fields by George Clausen (1882)

The next featured work of Clausen is a small watercolour (35 x 26 cms) which he again completed in 1882.   The painting, entitled The Return from the Fields depicts two young workers carrying bundles of brushwood which had been obtained by thinning out the copses.  This brushwood was used for hedging, or as beating implements used for fire fighting or sometimes used to construct sheep hurdles.  That year, the painting was exhibited at Institute of Painters in Watercolours, in London, under the title of Boy and Man and the art reviewer of the Magazine of Art commented favourably on the work:

“… the most artistic work on the walls……a small drawing, but it is so strong, and at the same time so tender and full of feeling, that it arrests attention more powerfully than the other pictures together.  It is evidently inspired by Millet…….he has struck the right road…”

Head of a Peasant Woman by George Clausen (1882)
Head of a Peasant Woman by George Clausen (1882)

Clausen painted two close-up portraits of peasant labourers.  The first was entitled Head of a Peasant Woman which he completed in 1882.   This is a wonderful portrait.  It is a triumph of realism as Clausen has depicted the woman, “warts and all”.  We see her weather beaten face caused by the many days and weeks of working the fields and her wrinkled bow is testament that she has endured a hard and worrisome life.  She doesn’t look directly at us as she rests her hands on a long stick.  The ring on her wedding finger glints in the sunlight.

Labourers after Dinner by George Clausen (c.1882)
Labourers after Dinner by George Clausen (c.1882)

The second portrait was an oil and canvas study of a young boy who was to figure in a work entitled Labourers after Dinner.  This painting is held in a private collection in Australia and I have not been able to find a colour copy of it so have just scanned a black and white version which I found in a magazine.   The painting was the first indication that Clausen was moving away from the emotional depiction of peasant pictures which had been popularised in England and France by Jules Bastien-Lepage.  Clausen veered towards more naturalistic, if brutal, genre subjects. This work was one of the most studied of Clausen’s early compositions.   It is a depiction of a boy sitting between his mother and father who were taking a rest from their work in the fields.  The controversial Irish novelist and art critic, George Moore, on seeing the painting, wrote scathingly about the group depicted in the painting in his 1893 book entitled Modern Painting. In it he commented on the depiction of the boy’s mother and father:

“…the middle aged man and woman who live in mute stupidity – they have known nothing but the daily hardship of living and the vacuous face of their son tells how completely the life of his forefathers has descended upon him…”

Head of a Peasant Boy by George Clausen (1884)
Head of a Peasant Boy by George Clausen (1884)

A “vacuous face” wrote Moore.  I will let you decide as the oil sketch Clausen made prior to the large scale painting, entitled Head of a Peasant Boy is awash with detail.  George Moore was not a lover of realism in art as in the same book he condemned it saying:

“…Realism, that is to say the desire to compete with nature, to be nature, is the disease from which art has suffered most in the last twenty years.  The disease is now at wane, and when we happen upon a canvas of the period like Labourers after Dinner, we cry out, ‘What madness! Were we ever as mad as that?”…”

Harsh words indeed and yet I like this painting.

The Shepherdess by George Clausen (1885)
The Shepherdess by George Clausen (1885)

Clausen was a founder member of the New English Art Club (NEAC) of London which was set up in 1885 in competition with the Royal Academy.  It was a club which attracted many young inspiring artists who were returning to England after their artistic studies in Paris.  One of Clausen’s first paintings to be exhibited at an NEAC exhibition was The Shepherdess which he completed in the Spring of 1885 and which is now art of the National Museums, Liverpool collection.   Clausen had sold the painting to John Maddocks an artist and art collector, and borrowed it back to show at the exhibition.  The orchard in which the young girl stands was to feature in a number of Clausen’s works.  In 1891, the art critic of The Magazine of Art, Butler Wood, commented on the work:

“…admirable specimen of Mr Clausen’s best manner, and displays feeling and atmosphere.  His colour scheme is simple, yet satisfactory and skilfully elaborated.  The girl’s figure is modelled with almost sculpturesque strength and the face painted with that ruddy glow of health which he is so clever at rendering…”

In 1891 Clausen moved from the Berkshire village of Cookham Dean and went to live in Widdington, a small picturesque village in the county of Essex.  He had been exhibiting most of his works at the New Gallery and the NEAC but as his paintings became larger in size they were not easily accommodated at these venues and so he had to once again look at exhibiting his larger works at the Royal Academy in London.  Clausen had fallen out with the Royal Academy years earlier over their teaching methods and their strict and antiquated rules but now, with an ever expanding family, he needed the support of the Academy if he was to sell his larger works.  In 1895, Clausen was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.  The art world noted his election to an establishment he had once roundly criticised but many saw Clausen as an excellent addition to the RA.  The scholar and prolific art critic of the time, often referred to as “one of the most powerful figures in the late Victorian art world”, Marion Spielmann, wrote about Clausen’s appointment in the February 1895 edition of weekly illustrated newspaper, The Graphic:

“…Mr Clausen was…… a signatory of the open letter which years ago set fire to the inflammable material which we young hot-bloods had….pile up  against the door of the Academy…. much amelioration has been brought since then;  the girls may now study from the semi-nude; then standard of probationership has been raised….”

Clausen now worked within the Academy system, a system which he had once heavily criticised.   He gave up his time, a couple of months each year, to teach students at the Royal Academy Life School Between 1904 and 1906 and in that year he became Professor of Painting at the Academy and, because of the large number of students who attended his lectures, was regarded as one of the most popular professors since Joshua Reynolds.

Bird Scaring by George Clausen (1896)
Bird Scaring by George Clausen (1896)

One of the works Clausen completed in 1896 was entitled Bird Scaring: March, and which is housed in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston.  In Victorian days bird scarers were employed by farmers to act as human scarecrows. Their task was simple; they just had to position themselves in the farmer’s field and scare off the birds which swoop down to eat the farmer’s crops.  This onerous job was for very young children who had to be working in the fields, dawn to dusk, no matter what the weather was like.  In the painting we can see the young boy who, despite the cold weather, wears only sack-cloth.  A small fire has been lit on the ground to keep him warm.  The blue/grey smoke from the fire wafts behind him giving us the sense that it is not only cold but also windy.  He is energetically swinging around, holding a wooden clapper in his right hand which made sufficient noise to deter birds from landing nearby.

Youth Mourning by George Clausen (1916)
Youth Mourning by George Clausen (1916)

For my next two featured works by Clausen you will notice a complete change of style.  The first one was completed in 1916 and entitled Youth Mourning.  The work you see is not the original version but one altered on the request of the purchaser.  Clausen, who was sixty-four when he painted this work was too old for military service in the First World War, however he was not untouched by the many tragedies of the Great War for his son-in-law, the husband of his daughter Kitty, was killed in battle in 1915 and it was that sad event which moved him to paint this work.  It was his personal expression of grief for the thousands who perished during the conflict.  This was an artistic departure of his favoured rustic naturalism style and more towards the French Symbolist genre.

In the original work there were three white crosses in the ground just behind the female and further in the background many more white crosses could be seen.  When the owner of the work, a Mr C.N.Luxmoore, who bought this and many other paintings from Clausen presented it to the Nation in 1929 the crosses had been painted out just leaving a barren shell-holed hillside.  We have no definitive reason why the owner got Clausen to re-paint part of the work.   The resulting work has a powerful symbolic aura of anguish and sorrow captured by the nude female figure hunched over in the foetal position.  The finality of death is depicted by the barrenness of the landscape where nothing lives.

In the Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal, 1918 by George Clausen (1918)
In the Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal, 1918 by George Clausen (1918)

George Clausen was later appointed an official war artist and took part in the ambitious British War Memorials Committee art scheme in 1918. He produced a large 183 x 318cms oil on canvas work in 1918 entitled In the Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal, 1918.  This urban scene once again is huge shift away from rustic idylls of the countryside we saw in his earlier works.  The painting was a commission Clausen received from The Ministry of Information who said they wanted a “Uccello” sized work of art which would be exhibited in the Hall of Remembrance.  Clausen visited the gun factory on a number of occasions and had originally intended that the painting would be in an upright format but eventually realised that it had to be of a horizontal format.  The work was finally completed in December 1918 and was first exhibited at the Royal Academy Winter Exhibition of 1919-20.  Critics believed it was one of the best works on display.  In 1926, due to his successful war commission he was commissioned to paint murals, notably Wycliffe’s English Bible for the Houses of Parliament and on completion of this task he was knighted.  He continued to regularly exhibit work at the Royal Academy during the 1930’s.

My Back Garden by George Clausen (1940)
My Back Garden by George Clausen (1940)

One of last paintings by Sir George Clausen was one he completed in 1940 entitled My Back Garden.  It was a depiction of the back garden of his house at 61 Carlton Hill, London.  He was eighty-eight years of age when he painted this picture.  It was almost a farewell painting as a year later; he had left his beloved house and garden because of the almost continuous bombing of London by the Nazis.  He decided that he and his wife should move to Cold Ash, a Berkshire village some two miles from the town of Newbury and seventy miles west of London.  Clausen continued to sketch and complete watercolours which he sent off for inclusion in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions of 1942 and 1943.   Clausen’s wife’s health had deteriorated in 1939 and she remained poorly until her death in March 1944.  Sir George Clausen died eight months later in November 1944, aged 92.   In June 1944, just five months before Clausen’s death, he was approached by Kenneth Clark, the Director of the National Gallery, proposing a retrospective exhibition of his work at the National Gallery.  Clausen was delighted with the proposal and wrote back to Clark:

“… I think such an exhibition as you suggest would be more appropriate when I am dead and indifferent to praise or censure !   However I will help you all I can…”

Sadly the exhibition never took place.

Sir George Clausen. Part 1. Rustic Naturalism and the influence of Jules Bastien-Lepage

Sir George Clausen       (Self Portrait)
Sir George Clausen
(Self Portrait)

There is something very intriguing about “–isms” when talking about genres in art.  We are all aware of them common ones such as realism, impressionism, cubism, etc.  In fact I have an art history book about “-isms”.  Today I want to introduce you to another “-ism” which is not mentioned in the knowledgeable tome.  It is ruralism, often referred to as Rural Naturalism, an art genre through which artists pictorially champion life away from the grime of cities and, through their paintings, exalts life in the countryside.   One of the great exponents of ruralism is the subject of my next two blogs, the English painter, Sir George Clausen.

George Clausen was born 8 William Street, Regents Park, London in April 1852, the son of Jorgen Johnsen and Elizabeth Clausen.  His father, an artist and interior decorator, was of Danish extraction and his mother was of Scottish descent.  Up until the age of fourteen and a half, George attended St Mark’s School in Kings Road Chelsea.  In 1867, three months before his fifteenth birthday he started a five year apprenticeship in the Chelsea drawing office of Messrs. Trollope, a firm of interior decorators.  During this period he was trained in drawing by John Cleghorn, whose job title was a copyist and limner, an old term for a painter of ornamental decoration, a book illustrator or somebody who illuminates manuscripts.  Cleghorn had an artistic background having studied at The Royal Academy Schools.  George Clausen had a thirst for artistic knowledge and to supplement Cleghorn’s tuition, also attended evening classes at the National Art Training School, South Kensington, which in 1896, would become the Royal College of Art.  One of the jobs Clausen was involved in was to decorate the home of the English genre, history, biblical and portrait painter, Edwin Long.  Clausen’s boss, an Irish man called Brophy, gave Clausen the task to paint some lilies on the panels of a door in Edwin Long’s house.  Clausen remembered this time and it must have made an impression on him, for sixty years later in his Autobiographical Notes which appeared in the Spring 1931 edition of the Artwork magazine he recalled the time:

“…Long looked at my work and said ‘May I see your sketchbook?’   He gave it back to me and said ‘Did you ever think of becoming an artist?’  I said ‘Yes, but I saw no opportunity of getting the training.’  Long said ‘I think you’d have a chance. And if I were you I’d try for a scholarship at South Kensington.’  Brophy readily agreed.  I had already taken medals in design, and I was worked up in my spare time, and obtained a two years’ scholarship in decorative painting at £50 a year!…”

Clausen was not enamoured by the training he received during the two year course at South Kensington School of Art.  He believed that there was not enough teaching and lacked structure as students were left to get on with things themselves.

The Baylonian Marriage Market by Edwin Long (1875)
The Baylonian Marriage Market by Edwin Long (1875)

He did however keep in contact with Edwin Long and did a lot of research work for him with regards some of Long’s large biblical paintings.  Long would pay Clausen for his help and also tutored him.  Long realised that Clausen’s artistic ability needed to be carefully nurtured and believed, for Clausen to receive the best artistic tuition, he needed to leave England and move to Antwerp and attend the Antwerp Academy of Art.

George Clausen accepted the advice and travelled to Holland and Belgium and for a short period enrolled at the Antwerp Academy where he studied under the tutelage of Professor Joseph van Lerius.  His sketches and paintings around this time were heavily influenced by Dutch subjects such as the coastal fishing villages and he exhibited a number of these at the Dudley Gallery, which was originally located in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London.   It  was completed in 1812 and financed by Earl of Dudley to house his valuable collection of pictures during the erection of his own gallery at Dudley House in Park Lane. It was known for its promotion of French and Dutch artists.

High Mass at a Fishing Village on the Zuyder Zee, Holland by George Clausen (
High Mass at a Fishing Village on the Zuyder Zee, Holland by George Clausen (1876)

One example of Clausen’s “Dutch period” was his small (47 x 84 cms) oil on canvas painting entitled High Mass at a Fishing Village on the Zuider Zee, which he completed in 1876 and is part of the Nottingham Castle Museum collection.  The work was the result of a summer holiday Clausen had taken to the island of Marken, in the Zuider Zee, with his friend and fellow artist Dewey Bates.  They had visited the village of Volendam on a Sunday, where there was a celebration of a High Mass.  The mass was so well attended that the church was full and many parishioners were left outside.  In the painting we see into the fully occupied church as well as a group of fishermen with their wives and children kneeling on the cobbled street outside the main entrance door.

The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, the first work he had ever submitted to the prestigious establishment, and the art critic of The Times, seeing the work of art and Clausen’s name immediately believed he was a Dutch artist painting a scene from his homeland and wrote :

“…a very clever Dutch painter, hitherto only known in this country by two drawings exhibited at the Dudley Gallery…”

The art critic of the Spectator was full of praise writing:

“…a quiet thoughtful picture, in every sense of the word. A work of true art and deep feeling…”

Whilst in Europe George Clausen made many visits to Paris.  His paintings around this time showed that he had been influenced by the likes of Whistler and William Quiller Orchardson, a well loved Scottish portraitist and painter of domestic and historical subjects.  He was also very interested in the rustic natural depictions of the Scottish artist John Robertson Reid and Léon Augustine Lhermitte, a French realist painter, whose primary subject matter was of rural scenes depicting the peasant worker.

La Pensée by George Clausen (1880)
La Pensée by George Clausen (1880)

In 1880 Clausen exhibited his work La Pensée at the Grosvenor Gallery in London.  It was a difficult depiction for an artist with the model seated in an interior.  The figure is not seated parallel to the plane of the picture and the rear wall.  It is a work of art full of detail.  Look at the right background and you can see the edge of an elaborate chimney piece.  In the left background there is a drop leaf table and on the floor a goat skin rug.  The lady sits upright in the chair looking out at us whilst grasping a knot of violets in her right hand which rests in her lap.  This is the key to the title of the painting (Thought).  Here is a lady lost in thought about her lost love.

Spring Morning, Haverstock Hill by George Clausen (1881)
Spring Morning, Haverstock Hill by George Clausen (1881)

Clausen often used this model for his paintings and one I particularly like featuring her was completed in 1881 and entitled a Spring Morning, Haverstock Hill.  It was exhibited at that year’s Royal Academy exhibition.  This London street scene was an ambitious work featuring not just the main female model, who walks along the street accompanied by a small child, but a number of other characters some at rest, some at work, including labourers digging up the cobbles in the road and, directly behind the main character, a flower seller.

Les Foins by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1877)
Les Foins by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1877)

When Clausen exhibited La Pensée at the Grosvenor Gallery amongst his fellow exhibitors was Jules Bastien-Lepage who was exhibiting nine paintings, including Les Foins (Haymaking), which depicts resting haymakers.  This painting had been exhibited at the Salon in 1878.  Clausen, like the critics, were enthralled by this work of rural or rustic naturalism.  Clausen shortly after moved to the countryside and went to live in the Hertfordshire village of Childwick Green.  He later wrote in his 1931 Autobiographical Notes about his new surroundings and the new opportunity and challenges it gave him as a painter

“…One saw people doing simple things under good conditions of lighting: and there was always a landscape.  And nothing was made easy for you: you had to dig out what you wanted…”

The Gleaners by George Clausen (1882)
The Gleaners by George Clausen (1882)

Soon his sketchbooks were full of sketches and paintings depicting workers in the countryside surrounding his house.  One of Clausen’s first works depicting labourers in the fields was completed in 1882 and was entitled The Gleaners.  The work was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1882.  It was greeted with great acclaim by the critics and art reviewers.  In Vol. V 1881-2 of The Magazine of Art, the reviewer wrote about how Clausen sympathetically depicted the labourers:

“…He shows us a little company of the poor not in picturesque rags but in garments of fact, gleaning modern English fields…”

Pauvre Fauvette by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1881)
Pauvre Fauvette by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1881)

In 1881 Bastien-Lepage completed a work entitled Pauvre Fauvette.  He often painted the peasants from the town he was living in at the time, Damvillers which is situated in north-eastern France. In his painting we see a very small young girl, the ‘little wild girl’ of the painting’s title.  Her job is to patiently and quietly guard a cow, which we see on the other side of the tree.  In a way it is a depiction of isolation in the way the artist has depicted the small child, even dwarfed by the tall thistles.  She stands alone next to a leaf-less tree surrounded by  a very barren landscape.  It is a pitiful depiction and we note her haunted and sad eyes and the way she tries to cover herself up and keep herself warm in a threadbare blanket leads us to believe it could have been a cold winter’s day.

The Stone Pickers by George Clausen (1887)
The Stone Pickers by George Clausen (1887)

The next work I am featuring was also probably influenced by Bastien-Lepage’s work above.  It was one which Clausen began in the autumn of 1886 and completed in 1887.  It was entitled The Stone Pickers.  On completion Clausen sent it to Goupil, the art dealer and in 1887 it was exhibited at the Dudley Gallery, London and also appeared at the second New English Art Club exhibition of 1887.  It is now housed at the Laing Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.  The model for the painting was Polly Baldwin and the setting was at Cookham Dene.  Look how in this work the girl has sacking wrapped around her lower body to keep her warm, similar to the attire of the child in Bastien-Lepage’s painting.  Stone pickers were sent out into the fields to pick up loose stones prior to ploughing.  In Clausen’s painting we see a young girl depositing stones, which she had picked up, on to a pile.  In the background we see another woman bent down picking up stones from the field. One can only imagine what a backbreaking and tedious job the women had to endure.  Many artists of the time liked to depict hard working labourers/peasants at work in the fields,  This was the essence of rustic realism or rustic naturalism.  Look at the expression on the young girl’s face as she looks down at the pile of stones.  It is a sad and almost haunted expression.  Behind her there is a can containing water and a wicker basket containing food for her lunch.  Our eyes are drawn to this area because of the red colour of what could be a table cloth.

In my next blog I will complete Clausen’s life story and have a look at some more of his works of art.