Wednesday 7 April 2010

Harvest Girl, by Charles Wilson, 1904

This was our first acquisition of 2010. Charles Edward Wilson (1854-1941) was born in Whitwell, Derbyshire, the son of the village schoolmaster, and studied at Sheffield School of Art. He developed a specialism in rustic scenes, some of which can still be seen on greetings cards today, and exhibited a total of 17 works at the Royal Academy.

The watercolour here of a harvest girl leaning on her wooden hay rake owes something to George Stubbs' famous painting, The Haymakers, of 1785 in which a comparable pose is struck. But this is 1904 and a genre of sentimentalised rural art that was a hangover from the late Victorian period. These gentle rustic scenes of wholesome innocence characterised the way that a predominantly urban and industrial society liked to think of its countryside and its country women. But things were beginning to change fast; and demure portraits of country maidens would no longer be appropriate to the era of the First World War and beyond.

A new breed of women farmers was now making the news, like these two, Miss Andrews and Miss Spencer, who trained at Reading University and the Midland Agricultural College respectively, and in the 1920s took a Sussex farm in partnership to build up a successful dairying and poultry enterprise.

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