Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS (British, 1852-1944) Noon in the Hayfield

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Lot 114
Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS
(British, 1852-1944)
Noon in the Hayfield

Sold for £ 581,000 (US$ 703,496) inc. premium
Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS (British, 1852-1944)
Noon in the Hayfield
signed and dated 'G CLAUSEN. 1897-8' (lower left); signed and titled (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
116.8 x 83.8cm (46 x 33in).


  • Provenance
    Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 28 February 1990, lot 122.
    Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 23 May 2013, lot 27.
    Richard Green Gallery, London.
    Private collection, UK (acquired from the above).

    Kenneth McConkey, George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life, Edinburgh, 2012, pp. 122-3 (illustrated in colour).
    Kenneth McConkey, George Clausen: The Rustic Image, exhibition catalogue, The Fine Art Society, London, 2012, p. 36.

    In 1897 Clausen gave a small oil sketch to his friend, the sculptor, William Goscombe John (fig 1).1 Painted around seven years earlier, the sketch was part of the elaborate planning procedure for a major work abandoned at the time, but now being revisited. The circumstances surrounding this act of generosity remain obscure, but the little picture itself is not insignificant. It shows a girl with red hair, sitting under a tree. The full sunlight strikes her white dress. Swift, slashing strokes of paint indicate that this figure study was blocked in very quickly – but then, the artist knew exactly what he was doing as he worked towards the realization of Noon in the Hayfield, the major canvas he had temporarily put aside back in 1891.

    Some of Clausen's earliest preoccupations are reflected in the work. These stretch back to 1880 when, in his late twenties, he stood in front of Bastien-Lepage's Les Foins, (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), the great picture of resting haymakers, then on show at the Grosvenor Gallery.2 It, as much as anything, prompted his move to the country the following year, and by 1883 his own version of the subject, Day Dreams (private collection), was exhibited at the Institute for Painters in Oil Colours in London.3 Here, two women, young and old, are resting in the shade, while nearby, a young mower pauses and realizes that it is time to lay down his rake. By 1886, when he painted A Midsummer Day (fig 2), Clausen had witnessed such moments of reverie on many occasions.

    By 1890, sketchbook studies in pencil, at least one pastel and the Goscombe John oil, indicate that he was reworking the same pose using a younger model, Rose Grimsdale.4 But what did this mean? Was the content – a haymaker's rest - a given, and technical advance the true priority? Was this innocent idleness, a moment's respite from relentless toil, or an experiment in new techniques? As Clausen returned to apply the finishing touches to Noon in the Hayfield, in 1897, the work that had been in gestation for over a decade, would all become clear?

    Clausen initially left the city at a time of great unrest in the countryside. Labouring families had been drifting to the burgeoning industrial centres for several generations and a crisis was fast approaching. For many landowners, it was exacerbated by tighter regulation that affected the employment of children at key points in the year. While the Education Act of 1880 demanded compulsory school attendance for all children up to the age of ten, it was not unusual for classrooms to be empty during the months between June and September.5 The hay harvest – 'haysel' – in which boys and girls were required to follow the mowers, started the work cycle. Their job was simply to rake the fallen grass into 'haywakes' to aid the drying process. Many farmers preferred this labour-intensive method to that of the horse-drawn mowing machines and swathe-turners, then in development.6 Machines were unwieldy in smaller fields, prone to breakdown over uneven ground and thought to tear the grass, where a sharp scythe would cut cleanly. Beginning at dawn when the grass was wet with dew and could be cut more easily with scythes, labouring gangs worked across a large field in unison, as Clausen's paintings of the period show.7 All hands were necessary – even those of farmers' daughters who were often compelled to leave the land for domestic service as they grew older. The hay was then turned by women and children, before the serious rick building commenced. Henry Williamson, writing in the 1920s, recalled that, 'they raked the harvest of the meadow into mound-like wakes, while the master haymaker, ever watching the clouds and the wind, urged them to greater endeavour, for rain meant a second rate crop ...'8 By noon, the time for rest, labourers and their families may well have been at work for seven hours.

    The artist also had been working up to this point. Around 1890 his sketchbooks record men scything, rick-building and tending livestock. Implied narratives of youth and age or secret trysts are excluded as his young fieldworker is placed at the edge of the meadow. Sketchbook studies of Rose are drawn and redrawn in reverse (fig 3). And while we can vouch for the accuracy of Clausen's observation, by the late nineties it had become clear that he and his French and British contemporaries were not so much recording an occupation as bolstering a threatened way of life. It was this powerful sense of a stable society under threat that kept the image of the country girl in focus as plein air painting moved ever closer to Impressionism. The planning for what would become Noon in the Hayfield had started in earnest and the resting fieldworker was redrawn in outline on a larger scale with trees and haywakes in the background, almost as a cartoon (fig 4).9

    By 1891 an exhibition-piece watercolour was nearing completion, when Clausen's circumstances changed. Early in the year it became apparent that his lease on Grove House, Cookham Dean was coming to an end and he would have to move. With a growing reputation, he also required a larger studio, and the stimulus of a new working environment.10 The early summer of 1891 was spent house-hunting in the northern reaches of Essex until he hit upon 'Bishops' at the village of Widdington, where he moved just before harvest time.11 At the last minute, the watercolour, Idleness, (fig 5) was submitted, ex-catalogue, to the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours as he set to work exploring the fields and farms of a new landscape.12 The large painting, later to be known as Noon in the Hayfield, was put on hold.

    New subjects – harvesting, ploughing and barn interiors followed - but the contact with his Cookham Dean models, Rose Grimsdale and the Baldwin sisters, was severed. It was only when he started to look again at head studies of Rose in 1896 and had found new girls and boys in Widdington who were willing to pose for him, that the thought of finally finishing the picture returned.13 He looked again at all the planning he had done and made some changes. The hat, which in Idleness lies behind the girl, was brought into the foreground. The windfalls that lie on the grass in the watercolour, suggesting an orchard in autumn, are removed, and the rake, essential in midsummer mowing is added, as in the outline drawing.14 Having begun to modify the mechanical 'square' brushwork of his early naturalist pictures, Clausen was thinking more about colour. Sundry references in letters indicate that he had been looking critically at the work of Manet, Monet and Degas.15 Questions of métier, of how to represent, overtake those connected with what to represent. His previous reference to Rose at this point was the half-length, Brown Eyes (Tate Britain), held over from Cookham days to be shown in 1892 and when Noon in the Hayfield was finally resumed five years later, Clausen had been elected Associate of the Royal Academy by a popular vote.16

    Other attempts to regain the heights of Noon in the Hayfield were less successful. Summer in the Fields (Private Collection), begun in 1898, remained unresolved and a similar setting, revisited in In the Apple Orchard (private collection), was designed as a companion-piece showing a boy with a basket of windfalls.17 However, Clausen's long gestation of the resting haymaker had, for all its suave naturalism, resulted in one of his most rigorously taut and deeply pondered compositions and rest, reverie and the sunlit glow of field and wild flowers combine to produce one of the most satisfying visions of the English countryside at the end of the nineteenth century.18

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

    1 Kenneth McConkey, Sir George Clausen RA, 1852-1944, 1980 (exhibition catalogue, Bradford, Bristol, Royal Academy and Newcastle Museums), p. 67, no. 76; Kenneth McConkey, George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life, Edinburgh, 2012, pp.121-2.
    2 See Kenneth McConkey, 'Un petit cercle de thuriféraires – Bastine-Lepage et la Grande Bretagne', 48/14 La Revue du Musée d'Orsay, Printemps, 2017, pp. 20-33.
    3 Ibid, pp. 60-1.
    4 A pastel, Study of a young girl leaning against a tree, clearly dated 1891, and closely related to this work, was sold Christie's, 13 December 2012. Throughout this fertile period, Clausen's sketchbooks were filled with studies. A figure ranged to the left on one page would be turned to the right on another. He obtained brown paper sketchbooks in which to work directly in chalk and his handling of paint becomes more urgent.
    5 Pamela Horn, The Victorian Country Child, 1985, AlanSutton, pp. 86-91.
    6 Arthur O Cooke, The Farmer's Fields, n.d., c. 1905, pp. 49-57.
    7 See for instance The Mowers, 1891, Usher Gallery, Lincoln.
    8 Henry Williamson, The Lone Swallows and Other Essays of Boyhood and Youth, 1933, quoted in Eileen Buckle and Derek Lord, In the Country, 250 years of country life in paintings, prose and poetry, 1979, p. 84. This account, originally written in 1920, is one of many contemporary descriptions of a process that had remained unchanged for centuries. If rain was expected, hay-wakes would be placed under trees, as in the outline drawing.
    9 This may have been intended as a cartoon since it differs markedly in style to Clausen's other drawings of the period.
    10 A bigger house was also required, as he and his wife, Agnes Mary Clausen, now had five children.
    11 McConkey, 2012, p. 101.
    12 McConkey, 2012, p. 108; McConkey (catalogue), 1980, p. 36.
    13 We know that Clausen was reviewing these earlier studies because in 1896 he gave A Village Girl (Rose Grimsdale), c. 1889-90, to his friend R Crafton Green; See McConkey catalogue 2012, p. 28, no 11.
    14 The high colour key derived from pastel, reveals the degree to which new attitudes were informing Clausen's technique in all media. It is however impossible today to know precisely when these changes were made, but in every case, they clearly strengthen the composition.
    15 McConkey 2012, p. 91, note 106.
    16 McConkey 2012, pp. 111-2, At this point Clausen was hosting the painter-prince, Eugen of Sweden. He had also terminated his contract with the Goupil Gallery and a gap occurs in his accounts. The early provenance of Noon in the Hayfield thus remains obscure, although it has long been assumed that it travelled soon after completion to a collection in the United States.
    17 McConkey, 2012, p. 122, fig 198; In the Orchard, although treated more summarily than that in the present picture, was perhaps designed as a companion piece.
    18 Little is known of the picture's early provenance. Clausen's contract with Goupil and Co, his dealer up to this point, had come to an end and a gap in his accounts at this point may suggest that the painting was sent abroad for exhibition and sale.
Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS (British, 1852-1944) Noon in the Hayfield
Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS (British, 1852-1944) Noon in the Hayfield
Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS (British, 1852-1944) Noon in the Hayfield
Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS (British, 1852-1944) Noon in the Hayfield
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