A contemporary of William Orpen and Augustus John, Philip Connard emerged in the early years of the 20th Century as a painter of great promise. His interiors were particularly admired, as were his suave naturalistic landscapes peopled with delicate figures dressed in 'the wide hoop and fringed bodice of the mid-Victorian era'. There was however, no anachronism. Connard's idyll was shared by Henry Tonks, John Singer Sargent and Wilfrid de Glehn. It seemed that those matchless summers of 1909, 1910 and 1911 gave birth to a specific kind of romance - one in which upper middle class families strolled with their dogs around ruined abbeys and held picnics under the blossoming trees of old rural churchyards. Sargent and de Glehn found this charmed ambiance in neglected Tuscan gardens, while Tonks, Philip Wilson Steer and their close New English friends found it in the perfumed bowers of the Severn valley and the Welsh Marches. Connard, although he had been trained at the nascent Royal College of Art and in Paris, rather than the Slade, was a member of this group.
His work of this period is typified by Summer. Like The Abbey Ruins, it evokes a world of sensual delight conveyed as much in Connard's handling of paint as in his subject matter. Connard is known to have worked in Norfolk during these years, specifically at Castle Acre, and the ruined priory in the background of the present picture may indeed be that on the outskirts of the village.
Hepworth Dixon described him at this point as a 'painter's painter', a 'trenchant impressionist' who took 'manifest delight in his pigments'. It was sunlight however, that coaxed this voluptuary palette into being. It was in essence the Edwardian equivalent of Matisse's 'luxe, calme et volupté'.
The illusion was shattered by the outbreak of war in 1914. Connard immediately joined the Royal Artillery, but was invalided home after the Battle of the Somme. After his recovery he became an Official War Artist attached to the Royal Navy. However when he returned to civilian life it was to landscape that he fled, gradually re-entering the cave of Watteau to produce decorative bathing scenes inspired by sojourns on the Seine at Les Andelys. One of these, also entitled Summer was purchased by the Chantrey Bequest for the Tate Gallery in 1922.