In the summer of 1913, two months after the birth of their daughter, Mary, the Spencer Watsons rented a cottage at Studland, on the Isle of Purbeck, beginning an association with the area which was to last for the remainder of the painter's life. Numerous oil sketches were painted of the beach, the sand-dunes and the coastal landscape. The area became a kind of Eden; it so fascinated the painter that in 1922, he and Hilda purchased Dunshay Manor on the Isle. This ancient house was partially modernized and was, on the deaths of her parents, inherited by Mary Spencer Watson who, by that stage had gained a reputation as a sculptor.
During her childhood years, Mary frequently posed for her father - most notably as The Saddler's Daughter (sold Christie's, London, 16 December 2009, lot 24), shown at the Royal Academy in 1924, but painted around the time of the move to Dunshay. She features prominently in grand manner group portraits such as Four Loves I Found, 1922 and Us Riding, 1926. This latter picture shows the artist, his wife and daughter riding past the ornamental gate leading to the manor house.
These carefully planned compositions build up Watson's stylisations to a monumental degree. In Drat them Goats! however, his work returns to a more naturalistic vein related to vivid oil sketches, in its depiction of the thirteen year old Mary running with the goats in the gardens at Dunshay.
In this instance the oil sketch was painted after the Royal Academy piece (1927, no. 22), since one of the trees has been removed and the others reduced. While classical inferences associated with the bucolic goatherd have been studiously avoided, the work recalls the bright impressionistic colouring of contemporaries such as Harold Speed, Philip Connard and Wilfrid de Glehn. Two further oils representing the scene in spring and early autumn, entitled Dunshay from the lower lawn and The Glade, represent a girl and dog without goats in one case and goats grazing without the running figure in the other (see Christie's, South Kensington, 30 June 2010).