The Cabbage Girl signed and dated 'GEORGE HENRY/1887' (lower right) oil on canvas 45.8 x 38 cm. (18 x 15 in.)
PROVENANCE: The Guthrie-Gardiner Collection Thence by direct descent
EXHIBITED: Possibly Glasgow, Royal Glasgow Institute, 1888, cat.no.151 as A Kitchen Garden Kirkcudbright, Kirkcudbright Town Hall, The Glasgow Boys at Kirkcudbright, 2 July-29 August 2011, cat.no.18
Sir James Guthrie was the prime pioneering force in the early years of the Glasgow Boys, with canvases such as To Pastures New, painted in Lincolnshire, and the monumental Hind's Daughter painted in 1883 at Cockburnspath. The Boys, initially Guthrie and Walton but later joined by Whitelaw Hamilton and Crawhall, had colonised the little Berwickshire village and produced some of their most characteristic work of the period with Guthrie's guidance.
Significantly, they were visited by the more established Arthur Melville, whose ambitious work had a profound influence on the group. Melville's Cabbage Garden (NGS), shown at the Royal Academy in 1878, established a key theme and his (shown at the RSA 1878 but since lost) Gardener's Daughter surely inspired Guthrie's iconic composition.
Henry's present picture is clearly a homage to the Hind's Daughter, yet this was not an artist in thrall but one who was in the process of 'taking the mantle' from Guthrie, in turn producing some of the most distinctive and characteristic Glasgow School pictures 1886-1892. These appear very rarely to the market and one can see great variation between the naturalistic Hedgecutter, 1886, for example, the derivative Sundown (Glasgow University Collection) of 1887, and more archetypal Glasgow pictures such as Noon of 1885, depicting Kirkcudbright (sold Phillips, Edinburgh, December 5, 1997, lot 128), Audrey of 1886 (sold Phillips, Edinburgh, August 26, 2000, lot 835) or the remarkable Goat Herd of 1887 (sold in these rooms August 31, 2011, lot 1048). The latter in particular displays great technical virtuosity, with the classic 'square' brushwork, use of motifs (eg the seated girl's pose, derived from Bastien-Lepage), and the unusual format accentuating the balance between design and naturalism.
The present work was painted at Kirkcudbright, where the artist worked with EA Hornel during the latter's most notable period, and depicts the town in the background. It explores the same concern, namely the dialogue between naturalism and design, and the girl's assertive gaze from mid ground draws the viewer into the consciously flattened picture space. Like Melville he tilts the picture plane, making the cabbages into motifs, while the crows above the spire provide an original decorative device.