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By the Duckpond

By the Duckpond
signed 'H.H. LA THANGUE' (lower right)
oil on canvas
35 3/8 x 30 1/8 in. (90 x 76.5 cm.)
Painted in 1893
Sir William Aykroyd, 1st Bt. (1865-1947), Grantley Hall, Yorkshire, and by descent.
‘Studio Sunday in London’, The Glasgow Herald, 2 April 1894, p. 6.
H. Blackburn, Academy Notes, 1894, London, 1894, p. 5.
‘The Royal Academy – First Notice’, Leeds Mercury, 5 May 1894, p. 10.
‘The Royal Academy – First Notice’, East Anglian Daily Times, 5 May 1894, p. 3.
‘The Royal Academy’, Ipswich Evening Star, 5 May 1894, p. 4 (syndicated to other sources).
‘The Royal Academy – Second Notice’, The Scotsman, 8 May 1894, p. 3.
‘The Royal Academy – Second Notice’, Dundee Courier, 14 May 1894, p. 3.
‘Fine Arts, The Royal Academy, Second Notice’, The Athenaeum, 19 May 1894, p. 650.
‘Notes of the Day’, The Westminster Gazette, 30 May 1894, p. 2.
G. Thomson, ‘Henry Herbert La Thangue and his Work’, The Studio, vol. IX, December 1896, p. 175, illustrated, as ‘by permission of JW Smith Esq’.
J Stanley Little, ‘Henry Herbert La Thangue ARA’, The Magazine of Art, 1904, p. 6.
London, Royal Academy, 1894, no. 363.
Manchester, Autumn Exhibition, 1894.
London, Royal Academy, Commemorative Exhibition of Works by Late Members, Winter 1933, no. 182, lent by Sir William Aykroyd.

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Alastair Plumb
Alastair Plumb Specialist, Head of Sale, European Art

Lot Essay

Despite the fact that Henry Herbert La Thangue had returned to regular exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1891, his radicalism continued to attract hostility. When By the Duckpond was shown three years later, critical opinion was still divided. The ultra-conservative Athenaeum referred to its 'crudities' and claimed that it was 'four times as big' as it should be. While a diverting little potboiler representing a pretty country child fishing in a pond might be more anodyne, and be more easily overlooked, unlike contemporaries from his student days in Paris, such as Thomas Cooper Gotch and Arthur Hacker, La Thangue held fast to the principles of plein air Naturalism.[1] Taking such a subject and representing it ‘for real’ on the scale of the present painting demonstrated, nevertheless, a level of audacity that, according to The Athenaeum, was to be deplored. The 'employment of monstrous canvases' for subjects like this was 'disastrous to art'. Such rear-guard opinions would only be dispelled two years later when a larger canvas was acquired for the national collection.
In 1894, the point had of course been missed, and scale, handling and subject matter had not been thoughtlessly adopted. It was left to The Westminster Gazette to applaud the “Duckpond” in the first gallery of the Royal Academy summer show, declare it 'admirable', and conclude that 'for general effect of sunlight and of shimmer and movement on the water [it] could hardly be bettered'. Yes, the artist could have produced a work in a minor key, but he did not; yes, he could have sacrificed on-the-spot observation for studio fakery, but he had not; yes, he could deploy a pretty pose, and 'come hither' looks, but he did not. And if such expectations were thwarted, another syndicated reviewer concluded that 'this artist has a style, however, and much may be forgiven to that'. As these words reverberated through many provincial papers, the question of La Thangue’s 'style' remained a live issue.
Like his great friend George Clausen, Henry Herbert La Thangue had forsaken the metropolis almost as soon as he returned from his student years in Paris.[2] By 1885 he was working at Rye on the south coast, then for four years he lived in Norfolk, before returning south to the Bosham estuary in 1890 where the present canvas was painted. Like Clausen, La Thangue was deeply concerned with the plight of the rural poor, and although there is no suggestion that his model was anything other than a farmworker’s daughter, elsewhere he depicted such children forced into service in cities or wandering the home counties as travelling harvesters.[3] To emphasise his continuing social concerns in 1894, he accompanied By the Duckpond with Some Poor People (Dunfermline City Chambers) at the Academy, a painting that anticipates his The Man with the Scythe (fig. 1, Tate, London), purchased for the National Gallery of British Art in 1896.[4]
During his years in East Anglia, La Thangue, Clausen and others were caught up in the movement for reform of the Royal Academy and as a founding member of the New English Art Club in 1886, he was castigated for attempting to introduce practices and principles that were associated with progressive Salon painters such as Jules Bastien-Lepage.[5] On the edge of the Norfolk Broads, he had painted peasant children fishing (Art Gallery of Winnepeg, Canada), a subject that had also been treated by Clausen in Holiday Time (fig. 2, sold Christie's, New York, 30 April 2019, lot 54, Private Collection).[6]
'Holiday time' was, of course, a day’s release from the rigours of an education system, now made compulsory by act of Parliament. But where Clausen opted for a uniform grey light enveloping his young model, La Thangue observes his girl by the flickering reflections of a pond bathed in autumn sunlight. She is carefully drawn in the moment when she turns her head towards some offstage sound.[7] Unlike their middle-class urban counterparts, country children's hair was often crudely cropped, their hands were rough, and feet were shod in tough leather boots. Pinafores and aprons were essential.[8] And while the name of this girl is unknown, her identity is not compromised. She had, by 1894, become a favourite model, seen in the previous year at the Royal Academy in The Wool Gatherer, and as the principal figure in Mushroom Gatherers (figs 3 & 4, both Private Collection) – activities with which she is likely to be familiar.[9]
And while such occupations might be the norm, so too might a moment’s idle respite by the pond. A work of art, the artist insisted to George Thomson, should be 'dans la sentiment de la nature' - a phrase he recounted in the French studio patois. And in order to capture this 'sentiment', the instant when the human figure walks in harmony with the shapes and colours of nature, the artist ‘should learn to record his impressions with rapidity’ (Thomson 1896, p. 177).[10] La Thangue’s 'learning', and his 'impressions', consisted of wielding a broad square-shaped brush to 'block-in' the scene before him at speed (fig. 5). Only then might he define the form and the spaces that surround it, fine detail being reserved for those elements such as heads and hands to which the spectator’s eye would be drawn.
It was 'Anglo-French' Naturalists like La Thangue, with their Impressionist outriders, that threatened the comfortable, lucrative commerce of senior Academicians - as reflected in the Athenaeum critique. Thus, the very sight of his work in the first gallery of the Academy where their works should be, was likely to raise hackles – even with something so simple as a painting of girl sitting by a duckpond. Not so, of course, in the north of England and Scotland, where plein air Naturalism was more immediately acceptable. It is not surprising to find that such works appealed to La Thangue’s primary clientele, the progressive millowners of the East Riding, one of whom was Sir William Henry Aykroyd (1865-1947), chairman of the wool and carpet business, T. F. Firth & Sons Ltd, and later managing director of the Bradford Dyers' Association.[11] Part of a distinguished group of Bradford wool trade collectors that included Isaac Smith, the former Lord Mayor, Abraham Mitchell and John Maddocks, he grasped La Thangue’s importance. All met during the exhibitions of the city’s Arcadian Art Club, of which La Thangue was president, and all collected his work.[12] Aykroyd was created Baronet in 1920. In 1925, he acquired the Grantley Hall estate near Ripon in Yorkshire, where he entertained members of the royal family. Most of these amateurs were first, or second, generation entrepreneurs, and none was far enough removed from the hillside pastures to forget the world from which their wealth derived. To such a collector, the appeal of By the Duckpond was as powerful then, as it is today.
We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

[1] Gotch’s A Child Enthroned, (Private Collection), in which Italianate Symbolist influences predominate, and shown in the same Academy as By the Duckpond, stands in stark contrast to it.
[2] La Thangue and Clausen probably first met at the Grosvenor Gallery where they both exhibited prior to their collaboration in the founding of the New English Art Club.
[3] La Thangue’s Leaving Home, 1889-90, formerly Forbes Collection, was sold Christie’s 19 February 2003, while his Travelling Harvesters 1897, was sold Christie’s 15 November 2007 (lot essays by Kenneth McConkey).
[4] For fuller discussion of these canvases see Kenneth McConkey, A Painter’s Harvest, HH La Thangue, 1978 (exh. cat., Oldham Art Gallery), pp. 29, 32-33.
[5] For further reference to La Thangue’s role in the formation of The New English Art Club, See Kenneth McConkey, The New English …, London, 2006, pp. 30-39. For Bastien-Lepage and British Art see Kenneth McConkey, ‘“Un petit cercle de thuriféraires” Bastien-Lepage et la Grande-Bretagne’, 48/14, La revie du Musée d’Orsay, no 24, Printemps 2007, pp. 21-39.
[6] The Winnepeg canvas shows two children fishing at Horsey Mere, c. 1886-7. I am grateful to Nicole Fletcher for a recent image of this work. Clausen’s Holiday Time (sold Christie’s, New York, 30 April 2019), was first exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886.
[7] La Thangue’s third Academy picture in 1894, The Song of a Lark and the blind Girl (unlocated) alluded specifically to the idea of sound in its title.
[8] The Leeds Mercury (5 May 1894, p. 10) commented approvingly on the careful treatment of the girl’s hands.
[9] La Thangue’s The Wool Gatherer was sold Christie’s, London, 31 May 2012 (lot essay by Kenneth McConkey).
[10] An important distinction is made here between ‘sentiment’ and what we currently mean by ‘sentimentality’.
[11] T F Firth & Sons had been founded by Aykroyd’s uncle.
[12] Local artists emerging in Bradford from its wealthier families and later associated with the Staithes Group, such as Ernest Higgins Rigg and Tom Mitchell, also acquired works by La Thangue.

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