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Sir George Clausen, R.A., R.W.S., R.I. (1852-1944)

The nut brown maid

Sir George Clausen, R.A., R.W.S., R.I. (1852-1944)
The nut brown maid
signed 'G.Clausen' (lower right), and further inscribed 'A Country Girl (crossed out) The Nut Brown Maid/G. Clausen/61 Carlton Hill/London.NW8' (on the reverse).
oil on canvas
18¼ x 14¼ in. (46.4 x 36.2 cm.)
with T.W. Spurr & Sons, Bradford.

Royal Academy Illustrated, 1927, p. 12.
London, Royal Academy, 1927, no 566.
Brighton Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1927.
London, Arts Club exhibition, December 1928.
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Lot Essay

In August 1925, Clausen was commissioned to paint one of the sequence of large murals proposed for St Stephen's Hall in the Palace of Westminster. The theme, The English People gathering secretly to read Wycliffe's English Bible, demanded extensive research and planning and went through two stages of approval by the Speaker of the House of Commons, before the designs could be painted. By June 1927 the canvas was completed and installed. Press reports unanimously regarded it as the most successful work in the series and on 7 July, Clausen was knighted for his services to art.

With the demands of the commission, the painter was able to submit only one new canvas to the Royal Academy that summer - The Nut-Brown Maid. In this he brought new excitement to a familiar format, stressing architectonic values in what had formerly been an exercise in simple naturalism. To this end the background was reduced to single shades of green and in the hat and tunic, mid-tones are omitted entirely. The purpose here is to create a gentle harmony in which the brim of the hat, echoing the curve of the shoulders, intersects with the edges of the canvas, while the subtle modelling of the face stresses local colour in patches of sunburnt skin. Clausen had observed a similar brightly coloured marquetry of shapes and forms in the work of younger contemporaries such as Augustus John and Henry Lamb. The strong linear emphasis and dry pigment used in picture express its essential modernity at a time when the most controversial canvas in the Academy was Dod Procter's Morning (Tate Britain).

The artist's account book reveals that The Nut-Brown Maid was May Harris and references to it disappear after its showing at the Arts Club in December 1928. It is one on the last head studies Clausen was to paint and as such it provides an extraordinary pairing A Village Maiden (lot 30). During the intervening forty years he had painted many head studies of field workers, recording different aspects of character and technique. In the early years of the century, for instance, he showed works such as The Haymaker, A Study in Shadows, 1900 in which the even light of A Village Maiden is sacrificed to the Impressionistic effects of broken colour.

Further changes are registered in A Village Woman, 1904 (Manchester City Art Galleries) when a more sculptural approach is taken. The culmination of these stylistic transitions is reached in the reductive Nut-Brown Maid where Clausen has pruned his style of all contrivance to distil its essential Englishness

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