Although Thomas Cook was marketing the charms of Cornwall to the nation around 1910, the region remained essentially one for travellers rather than excursionists. Those who walked its country lanes noted that the hard labour of ploughing and harvesting was interspersed with moments of simple delight. In these late Edwardian summers, nature was bountiful and women and children could often be seen gathering blackberries in the hedgerows. After 1905, Harold Harvey began to celebrate these wayside activities, using the subject as a metaphor for the profound relationship between nature and mankind which was often concealed from city-dwellers.
The present picture, not apparently listed in Ridson and Sheppard, fits well into the pattern of Harvey's work around 1910.1 The child is probably that in Wading Ashore, 1909 (private collection), whilst the motif of young women carrying baskets on a hillside, anticipates Morning Sunshine, Harvey's Royal Academy exhibit of 1911 (fig. 1, sold Christie's, 6 March 1986 lot 80).2 Both pictures pre-date Elizabeth Forbes' Blackberry Gathering (National Museums of Merseyside, Walker Art Gallery), a monumental work exhibited posthumously in 1912, in which children take centre stage.3. Harvey and Forbes demonstrate the simple equation of nature's bounty with childhood innocence. Delving into the brambles, a child was on the edge of wonderland.
After the Great War, this sense of wonder had dissipated. In 1921, when Harvey returned to the theme of Blackberry Gatherers, (Christie's, 8 March 1990, lot 24a), the activity is transformed into a frieze in which a mother and child advance across the hilltop to meet an older girl who cocks her hat against the summer breeze.4 There is an assertion of independence in her action. The headscarves, bonnets and long white pinafores of pre-war days have been replaced by shorter skirts and club-heeled shoes. Harvey's style has been modified to accentuate the decorative possibilities of bolder colour and the golden atmospheric impressionism of Blackberry Harvest has dissolved in favour of a sharper delineation of form. Yet for all this, the theme expresses what one critic described as the rather wistful geniality of this corner of England'.5 Although the painter could not fail to notice that a new post-war generation was emerging, he remained constant in the belief that his Cornish roots contained the essence of Englishness.
1. Although clearly inscribed, 'Blackberry Harvest', it is possible that the picture was first exhibited under a more neutral title.
2. Peter Ridson and Pauline Sheppard, Harold Harvey, Painter of Cornwall, 2001, (Sansom and Co), nos. 120 and 143.
3. For further reference see Judith Cook, Melissa Hardie and Christiana Payne, Singing from the Walls, The Life and Art of Elizabeth Forbes, 2000 (Sansom and Co), p. 150 (cat. no. 4.27).
4. Ridson and Sheppard, 2001, p. 150 illus. no 306.
5. The Queen, 24 May 1913, quoted in Ridson and Sheppard, 2001, p. 93.