I’ll try to give my source and refer to it each time a point is made. If I do not, the commentary is probably my own, and the crass mistakes will be too.
Étaples was a base for British forces in the first world war.
A WW1 website apropos a painting by John Lavery, The Cemetery, Étaples, 1919:
Many hospitals for British troops were set up in Étaples and many men died here, to be buried in the countryside above the River Canche and the Paris-Boulogne railway line. Before the Imperial War Graves Commission brought them together and arranged for their upkeep, this is how it appeared to Lavery as it had done to Vallotton: crosses, a few flowers and interminable rows among which women tend the graves.
Gathering Potatoes has a poppy to the right of the main figure.
Anna Gruetzner Robins has an essay about Clausen’s stay in Childwick Green between 1881 and 1885 in The Geographies of Englishness: Landscape and the National Past, 1880-1940, ed David Peters Corbett, Ysanne Holt and Fiona Russell, Yale University Press for The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (London) and The Yale Center for British Art, 2002.
The title – Living the Simple Life: George Clausen at Childwick Green, St Alban’s – is totally misleading. Clausen moved to the country in 1881 for only two reasons: because it was cheaper, and to paint. He was modest enough, but he was never a simple-lifer. Thomas Derrick was – or thought he was.
(Nor was modesty necessarily a characteristic of simple-lifers.)
When McConkey wrote the 1980 catalogue, he had not yet connected Gathering Potatoes (whereabouts then unknown) with GC’s visit to Dannes in 1887. Then, the only picture he could ascribe to it was A Normandy Peasant, now at the Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent, which he compared with La Thangue’s Poverty of c 1883.
Now he adds that GC is also known to have executed a picture described in his records as Back Garden, Dannes and a number of small seascapes.
A Normandy Peasant
Tomorrow Bonham’s are auctioning a Clausen from 1887, called in its day Gathering Potatoes and (by RAM Stevenson in 1890) Digging Potatoes.
The catalogue notes by Kenneth McConkey tell us that the name Bonham’s are using – In the Fields: Dannes, Pas de Calais – comes from GC’s own inscription on the reverse.
Signed (lower left), also signed, titled and dated 1887 (verso)
Oil on canvas
61.5 x 50.8 cm (24 1/4 x 20 in)
But not all of the information on the reverse dates from 1887: so perhaps, despite the catalogue entries, not this title. An inscription, McConkey tells us, indicates that it was painted in the immediate environs of Dannes.
In the autumn of 1887 George Clausen crossed the English Channel on a painting holiday in northern France. Five years before he had worked at Quimperlé [in Brittany], a popular artists’ colony, but on this occasion, he headed for the tiny village of Dannes, a few miles from the sea to the north of Étaples [north of present Normandy].
There was a small colony of painters in Étaples in 1887, McConkey tells us, which included Frank O’Meara and an American, Eugene Vail. Clausen’s contact with them has not been established.
In Gathering Potatoes, the painting of the soil I think vividly shows Clausen’s use of the “square brush” technique used by him and other English and Scottish naturalists in the 1880s. In its triangular constructions, the painting reminds one of La Thangue. And, of course, it comes squarely in the period of Clausen’s infatuation with the art of Jules Bastien-Lepage, the French naturalist.
The tenet of the Bastien-Lepage creed was complete objectivity […] . The eye and brain functioned in the first instance like a sophisticated recording apparatus – like a camera.
However, there was a more specific objective in Gathering Potatoes, and this was to tackle one of Bastien’s most celebrated subjects, portrayed on a grand scale in Saison d’octobre, recolté des pommes de terre (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne). This had first been shown at the Salon in 1879 and it re-appeared in the artist’s posthumous sale at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris in 1885. Clausen, if he did not see the picture on either of these occasions would have been familiar with at least one of the two widely-circulated engravings of the picture. In Bastien, the principal figure carefully tips newly-dug potatoes from her wicker basket into a sack, following, but not imitating the action of the fieldworkers in J-F Millet’s earlier The Potato Harvest, 1854-7 (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore).
Naturalism, more than earlier landscape traditions, as distinct from portraiture in a landscape, demanded a subject in the immediate foreground. That foreground had to link to a background, and that could be done in various ways. In GC’s Winter Work of 1883-4 the row of winter turnips recesses almost to vanishing point. In The Stone Pickers of 1887, as McConkey points out, the background is a slope. A slope is also used in the, to me, superior Stonepickers – Midday, a watercolour of, I think, 1883, which I’ll show later.
A flat plain without obvious perspectives or spatial cues gave a more challenging set of circumstances.
Northern France was a different landscape from that surrounding Cookham Dene, Berkshire, where GC was living in 1887. Does the background in Gathering Potatoes work? To me, it doesn’t seem consequential enough to balance the foreground: but I have not seen the original.
The painting, McConkey tells us, was shown at The New English Art Club in 1888 – during Clausen’s period of self-imposed exile from the Royal Academy.
Gathering Potatoes was approved by those critics who commented on it in 1888. The club’s third annual exhibition saw it infiltrated by refugees from the Royal Society of British Artists. This radical group led by Walter Sickert, was obliged to leave the society when Whistler was forced to resign the presidency. The ‘impressionist’ works by Philip Wilson Steer and Sickert effectively stole the show and although he continued to support the New English, Clausen was already beginning to have misgivings about the direction it was taking. For the next two years, he sent his important canvases to Sir Coutts Lindsay’s Grosvenor Gallery. This did not mean that Gathering Potatoes went unnoticed. It was illustrated in the Pall Mall Gazette ‘Extra’ in 1888 from a drawing by Clausen, and later surveys of his work recognized its importance in his development. […]
The drawing (9x8 ins) passed through the Fine Art Society in 1986 (Spring ’86, no. 136). […]
The verso inscription indicates that Clausen retouched Gathering Potatoes around . Since there are no obvious signs of damage and composition remains unaltered from that shown in 1888, we assume that these alterations were minor.
Clausen beginning to have doubts about the direction the New English was taking was Clausen ceasing to be avant-garde – which he had been until then, or at least between 1882 and ‘84.
Anyone writing about Clausen owes everything to Professor Kenneth McConkey, recently Dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Northumbria.
Kenneth has just completed a commissioned history of The New English Art Club and if he gets an offer may write the first book about GC.
The first if one discounts George Clausen in the Contemporary British Artists series edited by Albert Rutherston. Ernest Benn, London, 1923. Charles Scribner, New York, 1923. That book has an introductory essay by “D.H.”, Dyneley Hussey, and 34 black and white plates.
Kenneth has already written the fine catalogue, almost a book, for the 1980 Clausen exhibition organised by Bradford Art Galleries and Museums and Tyne and Wear County Council Museums.
That exhibition was held at: Cartwright Hall, Bradford, 3 May-29 June; Royal Academy, London, 12 July-24 August; Bristol City Art Gallery, 6 September-11 October; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 18 October-30 November.
In 1980 Kenneth was Senior Lecturer in Art History
in the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Anna Gruetzner Robins, whom I’ll refer to, is an authority on the period and Clausen expert in her own right. She is now Reader in History of Art at the University of Reading.
TD’s career changed abruptly in 1931. He became a cartoonist. There are no Derrick cartoons before 1931. He didn’t cease to be an illustrator, but he began to do something new. I am not sure what brought about the change. School fees and family commitments, no doubt, though the former I believe were paid by GC. Perhaps it was his reaction to the newly-urgent Zeitgeist of 1931. His figures, which had been so static in his early work, suddenly sprang to life.
There is a tendency now towards joyfulness, levity. Punch is shown off the ground: leaping with the spring lambs, on horseback slaying the devil, up a ladder picking apples, hovering over the Christmas tree, lighting the street lamp, sleigh-riding down the beam of a searchlight, soaring through the air on skis, jumping over barbed wire, skipping up the steps of an air raid shelter, always with Toby in gleeful train.
In the colour Punch drawing called Interlude the riotous god of the woods, fields and mountains abducts two servile victims of the bureaucratic state, working listlessly at their desks – and returns them refreshed to their duties.
Underneath everything there is a riot. Pan’s sportive spirit has been exiled in the Industrial Age, but lives beneath its surface, and may return to haunt and subvert it.
I intend to post most of his work here, especially the cartoons - in (inter alia and in alphabetical order) The Bookman, The Countryman, The Daily Mail, The Evening News, Everyman, GK’s Weekly, The London Mercury, Punch, The Sunday Express, The Tablet and Time and Tide.
Because I have not begun to scan it (practically nothing is on the web) I’m confining myself for now mainly to text about TD.
A reference book says that there is a Thomas Derrick in Brooklyn.
In 2003 I rang up the Brooklyn Museum of Art to find out what. It seemed an unlikely place for his work.
It did acquire one of his paintings, in 1923. The work was The Judgment of Paris, an oil, though one might have guessed tempera, and I suppose on canvas; and with this information they sent an image and a letter dated 31 March which TD had sent to the gallery.
Replying to your letter dated Feb. 20th bearing on the presentation to your Gallery by Mr Lewisohn, of my picture – the “Judgment of Paris”. […] The “Judgment of Paris” was painted in the final competition for the Prix de Rome, 1914.
The Prix de Rome?
This had to mean Louis XIV’s prize allowing French students to study at the French Academy in Rome. Really? Weren’t the Prix de Rome competitions held under strict conditions at the Academy in Paris? Wouldn’t we have heard an anecdote or two about this visit, which would have been early in 1914? And wasn’t the prize exclusively for French students? A French government website says:
To compete in the annual Prix de Rome Contests in Painting, artists had to present a letter of support from a well-known art teacher, be of French nationality, male, single, under 30, and pass the admission exams for the school. This greatly narrowed the field of eligible contestants.
TD was under 30, but married and not French. But Wikipedia says:
For 300 years, the French Grand Prix de Rome in History Painting was the highest honour that an artist from anywhere in the world could achieve.
… Though The Judgment of Paris will have been classed as mythology, not history. The American Academy in Rome had its own prizes, but TD says Prix de Rome, not Rome Prize. The British School?
TD’s picture is decorative, but doesn’t look to me like prize material. But had TD won the Prix de Rome, he would have gone, presumably with Meg, to study in Rome, and JMD might have been born there. We might have had a very different Thomas Derrick.
In the spring of the same year GC exhibited his first real nude, Primavera, at the Royal Academy. Did father-in-law and son-in-law talk to each other about the two works?
What happened to TD’s picture between 1914 and 1923 isn’t clear, but in the latter year it was presented to Brooklyn by the businessman-philanthropist Adolph Lewisohn.
In the letter TD gives a few facts about himself.
I was born in Bristol (England) in 1885: & received my first artistic training at the Municipal School of Art in that City. Passing to the above College [he is writing from the Royal College of Art] by means of a “Royal Exhibition” scholarship; I studied there for 5 years: returning to it in 1923 as instructor in Decorative Painting. I have been – Mulready Gold Medallist, & National Silver Medallist.
“Canadians Crossing the Rhine” was painted in 1920 for the Canadian War Records (Ottawa.) (The work is still in England)
We’ll look later at what those statements mean.
After the second world war The Judgment of Paris must have seemed pretty dated, part of a phase of twentieth-century art that needed sifting. The Brooklyn Museum, unsurprisingly, de-accessioned it in 1947, selling it to “Tobias, Fischer & Co.”.
Sequel. Earlier this year, I did a search for TD on eBay. I found a small colour print of The Judgment of Paris in a blue art deco frame and bought it. The seller was in Liverpool. Who would have made this print? I haven’t taken it out of its frame. Pictures for Prix de Rome finals were large: I am checking the size of the original.
Here is TD’s letter. And here are the black and white photograph of the picture in the Brooklyn archives and the colour image of it from eBay.