jueves, 28 de julio de 2016


Christa Zaat

Henry Herbert La Thangue (English realist rural landscape painter) 1859 - 1929
The Mushroom Gatherers, s.d.
oil on canvas
101.5 x 76 cm. (40 x 30 in.)
signed l.r.: H. H. LATHANGUE
private collection

Catalogue Note
Caught in the sunlight, a country child, stands in a field on the outskirts of a village. Her eyes search the rough grass for mushrooms to fill the basket which is over her arm. On the right a woman is also foraging while a herd of Ayrshire cattle peacefully graze behind them on the left. It is early morning and the shadows are long. These simple elements are drawn together in Henry Herbert La Thangue's The Mushroom Gatherers, painted in the mid-1890s.

It was fifteen years since George Clausen had moved literally and symbolically from city to country, and at least ten since La Thangue, having returned from France, had taken residence in a remote farmhouse at North Walsham in Norfolk. Their objective, as admirers of the work of J-F Millet and Jules Bastien-Lepage, was to observe and record the field activities around them. Bastien-Lepage had exhorted his followers to seek out a 'coin de terre' or corner of the world, which they alone would represent in all its phases. The force of this enjoinder and the importance of talisman images such as Pauvre Fauvette (FIG 1), exhibited in London in 1882, is reaffirmed in The Mushroom Gatherers. Its 'naturalism', expressed in the observation of light, atmosphere, surface detail and spatial mapping, became hallmarks of La Thangue's work. Like Bastien, he adopted high horizons in order to simulate the feeling of a real-life encounter in the open fields.

In later years, La Thangue's priority remained a rural setting where traditional farming methods persisted, and which was sufficiently off the beaten track to enable him to work undisturbed. In 1890, at the suggestion of James Charles, he moved from Norfolk to an isolated farmhouse between the villages of Bosham and Itchenor, near Chichester, where he stayed for eight years. Pure landscapes which tempted the painter into conventional compositions were roundly rejected and only by the mid-nineties were the anonymous lanes, dykes and ditches of his early work replaced by a very specific topography, enabling us in the present instance, to identify the village of Bosham, with the spire of Holy Trinity Church breaking the horizon. Identification of the church confirms the stylistic dating of the picture prior to La Thangue's removal to Graffham in 1898. An ancient Christian settlement, Bosham harbour was King Harold's point of departure for Normandy in 1064, earning the church a place in the Bayeux Tapestry. In 1890 Charles complained to PH Emerson that Bosham was inundated by members of 'the composition school of landscapists' and 'they cannot, as La Thangue says carry conviction' (Letter dated 17 July 1890). In Bosham harbour he had painted the monumental A Mission to Seamen, 1891 (Castle Museum, Nottingham), while in the nearby fields and farms, canonical pictures such as The Last Furrow, 1895 (Oldham Art Gallery) and The Man with the Scythe, 1896 (Tate Britain) were produced. The sombre mood of many of these 'excellent exhibition pictures' contrasted with more idyllic smaller works - often featuring children - such as By the Duck Pond, 1894 (FIG 2, Private collection) and The Mushroom Gatherers5. It may indeed be the case that these two canvases share the same model. The stooping female figure in the background re-appears in the foreground of Gleaners, 1896-7 and Gathering Watercress, c1896 (FIG 3, both unlocated). Having recorded mushroom picking in the present work La Thangue returned to the theme in Dawn (FIG 4, sold Sotheby's 10 March 2005, lot 257) exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1901.

Unlike the boys and girls at play, depicted by Newlyn painters such as Stanhope Forbes and Harold Harvey, La Thangue's children are workers in the fields and orchards. Ruddy complexions and strong hands reveal that they were born to outdoor toil. For the painter, the country child embodied the health, strength, resourcefulness and self-reliance lacking in her urban contemporaries. The solitary Wool Gatherer of 1895, the boys in Cider Apples, 1899, (Art Gallery of New South Wales) and The Ploughboy, 1900, (Aberdeen Art Gallery) point to the continuing importance of children as part of the rural workforce in this part of Sussex. Following the Education Acts of the early 1880s, the traditional skills of crop management and animal husbandry, relayed through the generations, had to compete with compulsory elementary schooling in country districts.

La Thangue was living through a period of great change when utopian social reformers, faced with the rapid expansion of cities, were advocating 'back to the land'. This went hand-in-hand with the growth of vegetarianism and the interest in 'vital food' (Jan Marsh, Back to the Land, 1982, p. 199). In this case, his keen interest in the economic cultivation of edible fungi led him to study an activity that took place at first light, between midsummer and early autumn. And even though his modernist mindset was not attuned to such fancy, he would have been aware of the folklore associated with the patterns of mushroom growth, know as 'fairy rings' (Anon, 'Obituary, Mr La Thangue RA - A Painter of Rural Scenes', The Times, 23 December 1929, p. 12). Field mushrooms crop during the hours of darkness and the current debates concerning their cultivation led to the formation of the British Mycological Society in 1896. Fungi appearing overnight in meadows and woodlands were popularly associated with fairies, elves and witches in western Europe. In Sussex these were known as 'hag tracks'. However, such suggestions are ruled out in The Mushroom Gatherers. Here the mise-en-scène, contrives to concentrate the attention on the single foreground figure, seen in a moment, in a particular field. For Henry La Thangue, this was sufficient.

We are grateful to Kenneth McConkey for preparing this footnote.

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