This drawing is a study for Autumn (private collection), a large decorative painting consisting of three panels, each measuring 4 by 6 feet, that Shannon executed about 1911. The study relates to the third panel, a scene of harvesting, but in the painting the foremost girl has been changed to a young man holding a sickle. The figure in the drawing seems to show the same model who appears twice in Shannon's painting The Bath (1908), sold in these Rooms on 6 March 1998, lot 84.
Shannon loved pastoral subjects. A comparable three-panel painting, The River, is in the Usher Art Gallery, Lincoln, and several other paintings feature harvesting or gathering fruit. Seasonal themes also abound among his prints. There are lithographs entitled Summer (1892), Winter (1898, 1907), and Autumn (1917), the last being a different composition to the painting to which our drawing relates. Equally characteristic is a set of circular chiaroscuro woodcuts depicting country pursuits appropriate to different times of year. These date from about 1898 and are sometimes said to have been conceived as designs for plates.
The son of the rector at Quarrington in Lincolnshire, Shannon grew up in the country, and later aesthetic experiences confirmed his taste for rustic genre. In 1893 he and his lifelong companion Charles Ricketts produced a series of woodcuts illustrating Daphnis and Chloe, a bucolic romance by the late classical author Longus; the book was published by John Lane at the Bodley Head, anticipating the founding of the Vale Press, Ricketts's own private press, by three years. But the greatest influence was the friends' passionate admiration for Puvis de Chavannes, who often treated such themes on the heroic scale of Shannon's Autumn. They visited him in Paris in 1887, and in due course some of his drawings would enter their remarkable collection.
Stylistically the drawing is reminiscent of Augustus John, who may have been inspired by Shannon (his senior by fifteen years) at an early date. Certainly Ricketts thought so. 'We dined with Rothenstein', he recorded in his journal on 5 February 1901, 'who showed us the drawings of a Slade student named John. They show, besides the influence of Rothenstein and even Shannon, the study of Rembrandt's etchings, and a quite serious evidence of ability and facility. We bought two' (Cecil Lewis (ed.), Self-Portait: Letters and Journals of Charles Ricketts, London, 1939, p. 53).
In fact the relationship stemmed maily from a mutual admiration for Puvis de Chavannes, whom John venerated for much the same reasons as Shannon, seeking to emulate his example of painting monumental canvases with idealised figures in idyllic landscapes. It is true the paths of Shannon and John sometimes crossed. Both frequented the Carfax Gallery and were patronised by the New York lawyer John Quinn. Both knew the Liverpool socialite Mrs Chaloner Dowdall, Shannon painting her and John her husband, the Mayor of Liverpool, in one of his most controversial portraits. John made an etching of W. B. Yeats for a collected edition of the poet's works that Shannon was too busy to undertake. But the art politics of the time also drove them apart. 'There are two artistic camps in England just now', Yeats told Quinn in 1909, 'the Ricketts and Shannon camp, which carries on the tradition of Watts and the romantic painters, and the camp of Augustus John, which is always shouting its defiance at the other'. John himself would probably have agreed. 'I have never', he informed Quinn the following year, 'succeeded in feeling or showing any great interest in (Shannon's) work, though I have remarked that personally he shows himself a man... of character' (Michael Holroyd, Augustus John, London, 1997, pp. 334, 343).
We are grateful to Dr Michael Barclay for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.