In Maternity a mother suckles her child at dusk in a cottage garden setting of the type which had been definitively realized on an grander scale by naturalist artists like George Clausen and Henry Herbert La Thangue in celebrated Chantrey Bequest purchases, The Girl at the Gate, 1889, and The Man with the Scythe, 1895 (both Tate Britain). Stott's Maternity is however, more than a pendant to these important exhibition pieces. Its interpretation underscores attitudes and opinions which were prevalent at the turn of the century, and which applied to the renewed attention to what C.F. Masterman referred to as 'the condition of England'.
As elsewhere in his work, Stott combines observation of contemporary conditions with an overview of a whole society in flux. Thus, for instance, as in Clausen's Allotment Gardens, 1899 (private collection), tending the garden produce was something carried out at nightfall, when the day's paid work was done. The provision of such plots was, by the 1890s, regarded as an essential way of stemming the exodus of labourers from the country to the city. It was embodied in legislation in the Allotments Act of 1887 which empowered local authorities to purchase land for allotments to be supplied to farmworkers. This and the County Councils bill of 1891 attempted to recreate the rural community as a yeoman class of smallholders - the very conditions which Stott described at Amberley. Thus the mother and her children represent the continuity of life on the land. Edwardian social reformers saw the village microcosm as a sort of ideal in which, according to George Bourne, women were valued as individuals, directing their male partners and shrewd in economic matters (Change in the Village, 1912 (New York, ed., 1969), p. 27.
Although all of these features are present in Maternity, they are presented with considerable aesthetic sophistication. Many commentators remarked upon Stott's management of evening light. At such a time, the colours were intensified and figures loom out of the rich golden twilight. 'Detail' in Stott becomes 'texture' and although his crepuscular effects might be equated with those of Le Sidaner and Segantini, there is within them an evocative richness which speaks to the values of English national life.