Although La Thangue's wanderings through southern France and northern Italy remain uncharted, it was clear from his exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1914 that he had ventured as far as the provinces of Liguria, Brescia and Verona from his base at Bormes-les-Mimosas. Several canvases represented scenes on the banks of Lake Garda where he is known to have visited Limone. It is likely however that the present canvas was painted on the Veronese side of the lake, possibly to the south where it begins to widen.
On the borders of the provinces of Trento, Brescia and Verona at the southern end of the Brenner Pass, Lake Garda had long been favoured by travellers in search of the picturesque. In 1776, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, 'savoured the magnificent natural scenery along its shores' and praised the industry of the local women, keen to sell their wares. As he sailed down the lake he felt that 'no words can describe the charm of this densely populated countryside'.1 Peasant life in the region had however, seen little improvement by the turn of the twentieth century, save for the fact that the population had declined as industries around Milan mushroomed. Despite the unification of the Italian states under Cavour and Garibaldi, living standards remained poor and the barefoot Italian peasant still conformed to ragged nineteenth century stereotypes. Yet in all of his depictions of the Italian peasant, La Thangue was keen to avoid the visual clichés of earlier generations. Henry James on his visits to the Italian lakes recalled the popular formulae,
'In one of Thackeray's novels occurs a mention of a young artist who sent to the Royal Academy a picture representing "A Contadino dancing with a Trasteverina at the door of a Locanda to the music of a Pifferaro". It is in this attitude and with these conventional accessories that the world has hitherto seen fit to represent young Italy, and one doesn't wonder that if the youth has any spirit he should at last begin to resent our insufferable aesthetic patronage.'2
Italy was thought of as a museum and it was only the modern traveller who could appreciate its realities by rejecting the stereotypical. Unconstrained by past precedent, La Thangue indicates the majestic sweep of lake and mountains as a backdrop for his Veronese shepherdess. It is probable that the young woman represented here is also depicted in Fetching Water from Lake Garda, a work also owned by Moses Nightingale. The same model may also be the water carrier who posed for A Veronese Road (Dunfermline Museum and Art Gallery), a work exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1917 and which contains a similar configuration of hills sweeping down to the lake as those in the present work.
1 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Letters from Italy, 1995 ed., (Penguin), pp. 7-10.
2 Henry James, Italian Hours, 1909 (Grove Press ed., New York), p. 111-2.