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Sir George Clausen, R.A., R.W.S. (1852-1944)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Sir George Clausen, R.A., R.W.S. (1852-1944)

The Barn Door

Sir George Clausen, R.A., R.W.S. (1852-1944)
The Barn Door
signed 'G Clausen' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm.)
W.H. Ackroyd, by whom acquired from the Royal Academy, 1906.
with J.L.W. Bird, London.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 19 May 1982, lot 55, as 'The Barn Door'.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 5 June 1992, lot 15, where purchased by the present owner.
Private Collection.
'Fine Art - The Royal Academy - 1', The Academy, 12 May 1906, p. 455.
R. Dircks, 'The Royal Academy', The Art Journal, 1906, p. 162.
'The Royal Academy', The Illustrated London News, 12 May 1906, p. 686.
The Studio, vol. XXXVII, 1906, p. 321 (illustrated).
'The Royal Academy Exhibition - Second Notice', The Studio, vol. XXXVIII, 1906, p. 8.
Pall Mall Pictures, 1906, p. 34 (illustrated).
The Royal Academy Pictures, 1906, p. 87 (illustrated).
Black and White Handbook to the Royal Academy, 1906, p. 2 (illustrated).
D. Hussey, George Clausen, London, 1923, p. 20, pl. 1.
K. McConkey, George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life, Glasgow, 2012, p. 144, illustrated in colour.
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1905, no. 1144.
London, Royal Academy, 1906, no. 377.
Manchester, City Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 19010, no. 115.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

In 1896, Eugen Napoleon Nicholas, Crown Prince of Sweden, visited Widdington in Essex, to stay with George Clausen. The prince, a talented painter, was keen to study the working methods of the British Impressionist and on one occasion he was taken to a nearby farmyard with its ancient barn (K. McConkey, George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life, 2012, p. 118). This is likely to have been the medieval barn at Prior's Hall Farm, a short distance from Clausen's studio in the centre of the village.

Standing in its dark interior the prince commended the scene to Clausen, suggesting that this monumental subject should be treated in tempera. Eugen may have been taking his cue from drawings he had already noticed in the painter's studio, for six years earlier Clausen had begun to produce studies of labourers flailing and winnowing grain (Ibid, pp. 98-9). More recently with The Farmer's Boy (Tate Britain) and Boy Threshing (fig. 1, 1896, Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa) he had returned to these subjects and it was but a short step to pull back from the single figure and take in the full majesty of the cavernous setting in which he was placed. This was the one great rural theatre that remained to be explored.

Throughout the next ten years, Clausen regularly addressed the subject. Starting with The Old Barn (unlocated) in 1897 he submitted grain-store subjects to the Royal Academy alongside plein air pictures of hoers and haymakers. Unlit barns imposed special restrictions in that the air was always dusty and in order to see what he was doing, the painter must work in the pool of light by the central doorways. These coupled with slits in the wooden screens and holes in the thatch provided his light sources - as is clear from The Golden Barn, 1901 (fig. 2, 1901, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). This canvas was lavishly praised when it appeared at the Academy, The Art Journal critic finding it a 'rare pleasure'.

'The timber roof is haunted with luminous shadow; the light that gains ingress, whether through the gap beneath the eaves to the left or elsewhere, is sensitively controlled; this raftered structure, from whose floor the bending lad,...gathers the grain of gold and green is full of atmosphere, of the poetry that issues when form and colour are harmoniously blent [sic]' ('The Royal Academy of 1901', The Art Journal, 1901, pp. 176-7).

In the following years Clausen looked elsewhere for his subject matter. There were village nocturnes, allotment gardens and a monumental series of gleaner subjects, and it was only in 1904 that he began to contemplate a new luminous treatment of sacks being loaded on to a cart at a barn door. A watercolour of this subject (unlocated) was shown at the Goupil Gallery in 1904 and this may have provided the basis for an etching (The Barn Door, 1904, etching, Private Collection, see F. Gibson, 'The Etchings and Lithographs of George Clausen RA', Print Collector's Quarterly, vol. 8, 1921, no. 15).

Despite the heavy commitments which went with his appointment as Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy Schools in 1904, and his move from Widdington to London the following year, Clausen retained his foothold in the countryside and the new barn picture, which was in gestation throughout this period, reflects the changes which had occurred in his work since The Golden Barn was shown. Now, his surfaces were drier, giving a powdery effect that complemented the barn's dusty atmosphere and accentuated the effect of sunlight falling on a discarded basket and winnowing fan. And under the ancient wooden structure, a young man heaves a bulging sack up over the 'leapboard' placed at the barn door to stop farmyard animals - mostly errant hens - from invading the grain store.

The picture was accompanied at the Academy by landscapes with figures - The Green Fields (Leeds City Art Galleries) and A Winter Morning (Manchester City Art Galleries). Two portraits, J Williams Benn, Chairman of the LCC (City of London Corporation) and JT Tweed Esq, Town Clerk of Lincoln (Usher Gallery, Lincoln) accompanied the three rural subjects. The Studio complemented the painter on his 'earnest search after certain difficult truths connected with natural effect', while The Art Journal noted the 'subdued and poetic light' that was cast upon Clausen's forms. 'Mr Clausen treated Millet's subjects with Monet's truth to natural colour', said The Academy, '...and the expressive simplicity of his drawing, the unfailing balance of his composition, the beauty and truth of his colour, unite to make these exhibits the most admirable contributions to the exhibition' (The Academy, 12 May 1906, p. 455; The Art Journal, 1906, p. 162; The Studio, vol. XXXVIII, 1906, p. 8).

The painter, had he been interviewed, would probably have suggested more venerable precedents than Monet and Millet. One of his favourite pictures was Rembrandt's Adoration of the Shepherds, 1646 (National Gallery, London) and he admired the unpretentious way in which the Dutch master took something fundamentally ordinary - a stable interior - and imbued it with immense significance (K. McConkey, 2012, p. 125). The barn at Prior's Hall had seen centuries of flailing and winnowing, and now that England could no longer feed its population for its own harvests, there was a poignancy about the task performed by these labourers. In the event of war in Europe, some commentators were saying Britain might risk starvation, even if by 1906, a fragile series of secret treaties held France, Germany and Austria-Hungary in precarious balance. The English barn from which its people had been fed, was richly symbolic and Clausen would return to it in 1908 with An Ancient Barn (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven), for his Diploma work in 1909, Interior of an Old Barn (Royal Academy of Arts), and again in 1911 with The Barn at Deer's Farm, 1911 (sold in these Rooms, 23 November 1993). Even after the Great War, it remained a consistent theme, with barn pictures appearing in 1921, 1929 and 1931. On each occasion he rang the changes, but none of these later treatments was quite so atmospheric as that moment of serenity when we become aware that by the barn door, two men are grappling with a sack of grain - and 'expressive simplicity' coupled with 'beauty and truth' are indeed evident in his drawing and use of colour in one of his most important themes.


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