Sir George Clausen RA RWS (British, 1852-1944) The spreading tree 24 x 20in (61 x 51cm)
Lot 81
Sir George Clausen RA RWS
(British, 1852-1944)
The spreading tree 24 x 20in (61 x 51cm)
Sold for US$ 521,000 inc. premium

Lot Details
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT NEW YORK PRIVATE COLLECTION
Sir George Clausen RA RWS (British, 1852-1944)
The spreading tree
signed 'G. CLAUSEN' (lower right)
oil on canvas
24 x 20in (61 x 51cm)

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    The Artist's studio sale, 1944.
    Sale, Christie's, London, 19 October 1945, lot 149 (as A Shady Spot).
    Sale, Christie's, London, 11 March 1994, lot 5 (as A Shady Spot).
    Sale, Christie's, London, 11 December 2008, lot 9 (as The Spreading Tree).
    with Messum's Fine Art, London.

    Exhibited
    London, Royal Academy, 1901, no. 652.
    Manchester, City Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1901, no. 223.
    Glasgow, Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, 1902, no. 156.

    Literature
    The Royal Academy, Second Notice, The Athenaeum, 18 May 1901, p. 636.
    Royal Academy, A Second Notice, St James's Gazette, 16 May 1901, p. 5.
    The Royal Academy, Yorkshire Post, 4 May 1901, p. 6.
    Royal Academy Pictures, 1901, p. 158 (illus).
    Kenneth McConkey, George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life, 2012, (Atelier Books), pp. 126-7 (illus in col as plate 208).

    A shady spot was one of the four paintings Clausen exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1901. It was painted when the artist and his family were living in Widdington, near Newport in Essex, an area surrounded by large oaks, which were often painted by the artist and featured in his lectures at the Royal Academy.

    George Clausen's four pictures at the Royal Academy in 1901 demonstrated the range and depth of his rural subject matter. Labourers - Sons of the Soil (Private Collection) – were shown en plein air, hoeing a field; boys winnowing and bagging corn appear in The Golden Barn (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool); and a Hardy-esque country-girl, A Gleaner, (Private Collection) carries a wheat sheaf from the newly harvested fields (McConkey 2012, pp. 126-9). One canvas, The Spreading Tree, reveals the painter in a more experimental mood, moving away from these time-honoured subjects. It shows two girls, probably the painter's teenage daughters, Meg (1884-1946) and Kitty (1886-1936), sitting in the dappled shade of a large oak or elm tree. This new departure drew fire from the ultra-conservative Athenaeum critic while others, more attuned to the development of British Impressionism, lavished praise upon the picture. The Yorkshire Post especially described it as a 'tour de force and very beautiful', and 'its reflections cast upon a great tree trunk seen against the light, are depicted with wonderful truth and tenderness'. It concluded,

    So far as purely artistic qualities are concerned, refined beauty of colour, charm of subtle and elusive handling, the realization of pure sunlight, the presentment of a subject beautiful in itself and seen in the most beautiful way, there is nothing in the present exhibition finer ...

    Clausen would later confess that 'It is not so very difficult to copy a tree, but to paint it and make it live ... is a thing few can do well ...' (Royal Academy Lectures on Painting, 1913, Methuen and Co., p. 101). The contre jour effect of back-lighting from low afternoon sunlight in this instance, intensifies both contrast and local colour, and sets a challenge that he was to take up in subsequent years in works such as Dusk, 1903 (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne) and The Gleaners Returning, 1908 (Tate, London). Critics quickly got the message. In the first of these, the trees had a 'rare and delicate beauty' while in the latter, 'one of the finest of those problems of light', the evening sunlight casts long shadows across the road, almost submerging the figures (McConkey 2012, pp. 132, 147-8).

    Clausen's account book indicates that The Spreading Tree was dispatched to the Academy through the agent, Buck, on 5 April 1901, with an asking price of £150. The picture was then sent to the Manchester Autumn Exhibition on 29 July. Such was the interest it aroused, that Percy Bate, secretary of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts wrote requesting The Spreading Tree for its exhibition in the spring of 1902. There are no notes relating to its eventual sale.

    While the painter may have stressed the technical problems in the representation of the evanescent play of light ('Painters of Light: An Interview with George Clausen ARA', Black and White, 8 July 1905, p. 42), there can be no doubt about the latent symbolism in the present picture. Like the labourer, ancient oaks and elms expressed the nation's stability and healthy growth at a time when Britain had been fighting the Boers. Although the whole country remained in mourning for the death of Queen Victoria, spring in that year saw the dawning of a new era and for the painter, these daughters of Albion in the shade of The Spreading Tree carried the promise of new, more enlightened generations to come.

    We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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