In the nineteenth century, in an age dominated by Christian values, tending sheep was a richly symbolic activity. The good shepherd, in Christ's parables, looked after his flock and was someone who embodied timeless virtues. It was the need to reassert these which led in later years to Edward Stott being taken up in the popular Bibby's Annuals. Stott had tackled the theme of sheep husbandry on previous occasions, most recently in 1904 when he exhibited Folding Time (Ferens Art Gallery, Hull) at the New Gallery. This shows the flock entering the sheepfold in moonlight watched over by the old shepherd, his wife and granddaughter, and his faithful sheepdog. When it was reproduced in colour by Bibby, readers were told that this was a 'poem of evening, summing up the beauty of the hour, and striking a lyrical note that sets us musing on the blessing of calm and rest' (Bibby's Annual, 1920, p. 13). For those who mourned the passing of one the most loved English painters and who had survived the horrors of the trenches, the rigours of Stott's art, like those of Constable and Turner, had been translated into hackneyed populist sentiment.
Back in 1905, however, it was evident that The Shepherd was one of Edward Stott's most accomplished pictures. A.C.R. Carter, reviewing the work in The Art Journal in 1905, declared, 'Mr Stott's technique …demands an extraordinary amount of laour e)ven on details which are of very little importance. He yet contrives to establish a proper order of emphasis ... scale is governed by the light from the candle held and shaded by the hand of the little maid. We see with certainty how much of the interior and figure are affected by this, and with what care detail in shadow has been treated. Between the girl and the returning shepherd holding the bleating lamb is a wonderful glimpse of the outer evening twilight seen through the open door. For a long time I have been thinking that if any painter could possibly blend the methods of the Pre-Raphaelite and Barbizon schools it would be Mr Stott, and the tiny canvas this year fortifies me in this belief'.
Carter's eulogy makes clear that it has taken the accumulated wisdom of British and French art of the previous century - the Pre-Raphaelite and Barbizon schools - to produce a work of such consummate skill and profound poetic observation. Carter had been one of the first to observe that Stott's way of composing involved no accidental effects or 'snapshot' views. Each of his pictures was assembled with great deliberation and the overall effect of light, coming often from a single source within the picture - as in the present instance - was consciously conceived. This deliberation had produced the deep poetry which James Stanley Little had been one of the first to note. The village of Amberley, in which Stott had settled in 1887, was a 'dreamy old-world' place near which 'the river (Arun) periodically bursts its bounds and floods the rich grazing grounds by which it is bordered'. Stott, according to Little, 'is not directly influenced by the archaism of his surroundings. He has absorbed the romance of the place; his art is tinctured by this romance, but it is not a vehicle for its conveyance … the touch of poetic inspiration and of artistic sensibility is everywhere apparent'. In this sense, Little felt, the word 'Impressionist' to describe Stott's art, was 'something of a misnomer'. Stott's was not the tourist gaze. His approach was, like complete surrender to his world, complete identification with its values and experiences, and complete attuning to the visual texture of cottages, barns and sheepfolds. 'To do anything great in it, one must practically become a monk.' Little declared, 'One must banish oneself from the world, content in nine cases out of ten to draw a blank so far as the prizes of life are concerned' (J. Stanley Little, 'On the Work of Edward Stott', The Studio, VI, 1896, pp. 71-83).
Deep knowledge and intimacy were what characterised Stott's work for Laurence Housman. Stott's works were rooted in memory, 'memory after all is a hiving process: its honey clings to the mind and cannot be got rid of; and association, however perilously akin to that literary interest ... is inevitable as long as a man carries his eyes in his head, and not in some way isolated and apart from the rest of his senses' (Laurence Housman, 'Mr Edward Stott, Painter of the Field and of the Twilight', The Magazine of Art, 1900, p. 535).
Such attitudes thus informed the Edwardian spectator's approach to what is an extraordinary work. It sits within an oeuvre which was dedicated in all its fullness to the most complete evocation of English rural life - a world which was now under threat. Amberley had become an archetype.
We are very grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for preparing the catalogue entry for lots 1-5.