About the artwork
It is widely accepted that Stubbs is the finest horse painter of all time. Through his dissection and study of equine anatomy he achieved an understanding of the horse which has not since been equalled. Stubbs, however, had wide ranging ability and was equally adept as a portraitist and landscape painter. He successfully worked on every scale, from enormous images such as Whistlejacket (National Gallery, London NG6569), to small landscape studies. Stubbs's abilities were unrivalled, and as such he is considered the leading artist of his generation. By the time the present picture was executed in 1785, in the artists's early sixties, Stubbs had made the astonishing transformation from being a self-taught artist, established in the north of England, to becoming the country's foremost painter in London. This was largely due to his encounter with the new generation of Whig landowners, centred around the Marquess of Rockingham. Notable patrons included the Dukes of Richmond, Portland and Grafton, the Viscounts Bolingbroke and Torrington, and Richard Grosvenor (later Earl Grosvenor). He had produced great hunting scenes, such as The Grosvenor Hunt (Trustees of the Grosvenor Estate), in 1762 and had painted wild animal scenes such as Horse Frightened by a Lion (Tate, London T06869) in 1763. He had painted famous racehorses such as Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath (Woolavington Collection) in 1765 and had showed his genius as a portrait painter with 'A conversation': members of the Milbanke and Melbourne families,1770 (National Gallery, London NG6429). Stubbs had also broadened the scope of his art in new and experimental ways. He began to explore the use of enamel, firstly from 1769 on copper and, later, after his meeting with Josiah Wedgwood, on ceramic tiles. It seems to be this interest in enamel which led to his increasing use of panel after 1770. This also led to a change of technique where he reduced the body of pigment to a fine layer, as can be seen in the Harvest Wagon. In his diversity, experimentation and enquiring mind, regardless of the financial rewards, Stubbs was a true exponent of the Enlightenment era. It is Stubbs's interest in enamel which appears to have brought about the circumstances in which the present picture was created. Stubbs had been received into the Royal Academy in 1780. However, a row between Stubbs and the Academy over how a group of his enamel works had been hung in the 1781 exhibition meant that he did not supply the Diploma work required for ratification of his membership and consequently his place was given to another artist. Stubbs would not exhibit again at the Academy until 1785. (B. Taylor, Stubbs, London, 1971, p.19). Following his bitter disappointment with the Royal Academy, Stubbs appears to have turned away from his earlier ambitions to become a history and portrait painter. Instead he produced a series of beautiful and atmospheric rural harvesting scenes. Basil Taylor writes of this series in his great Stubbs overview: "Despite the discouraging circumstances… the quality of his art, above all its natural composure and control, was unaffected, and indeed some of Stubbs's most lyrical, tender and suggestive paintings belong to this time." (ibid. B. Taylor, p.19). Haymakers and its pendant, Reapers, oil on panel, 1783, were the first two works in the series (Upton House, National Trust). These were developed in 1785 into a second group: Haymakers (Tate, London T02256) and Reapers (T02257), also oil on panel. It was with this second pair that Stubbs made his return to the Royal Academy in 1785. The Harvest Wagon, is the final known work in oil from this series, also executed in 1785, but on a millboard support. Evocative and harmonious, The Harvest Wagon faithfully describes the timeless method of bringing in the crops. There is such familiarity and accuracy to the scene that it is unmistakably studied from life. All of Stubbs's harvest scenes were most likely based on preliminary drawings made from nature, which he then rearranged to suit his design. Stubbs's studio sale included these studies relating to the harvesting series, but they are all now untraced. In the present scheme Stubbs portrays a peaceful vision as the day draws towards its end. The horses' shadows lengthen and the trees and hedgerows darken in the approaching gloom, whilst the field, nearly cleared of its crop, is bathed in a golden light. Harvesters load the last sheaves onto a laden cart with their pitchforks and young girls glean any remaining stalks. In the foreground is a discarded waistcoat, testament to the hot physical work, and a keg of ale and jug wait in the shade of a stook for when the work is done. The composition is dominated by the prominent circular grouping of the figures engaged in different tasks. The harvesters clothing is beautifully observed and their characterisation is as individuals rather than 'rustic types', in particular that of the young girl whose sweet face looks out, drawing the viewer in. Stubbs's harvesting scenes transcend naturalism with their bucolic harmony and well-dressed labourers. In her catalogue raisonné Judy Egerton maintains that Stubbs's aim was not complete realism: "The representation of his subjects in seemingly spotless attire is characteristic of Stubbs's work. It is an aspect of his understated egalitarianism… Stubbs's employees, whether in the fields or the stables, are never clearly seen to be demeaned by dirty work, nor are their masters ennobled by rank and poses of hauteur. All his portraits of employees - whether trainers, grooms, jockeys or the staff of stud farms - depict them attired as spotlessly as their masters, with neither dirt on their faces nor clods on their boots." (J. Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 2007, p. 477) A pair of harnessed draught-horses complete the composition. The lead horse is stationary, but not static. Stubbs employs his flawless technical ability to bring it to life, ears pricked, alert to the movements of the labourers, its exquisitely observed muzzle hints very subtly that the horse is toying with the bit as it waits to draw the cart. Understated and delicate highlights draw the eye from the horse's head over the harness and leathers to the beautiful sheen on the its flank and on through the long chains to its fellow companion and the cart beyond. Following on from the oils of 1783 and 1785, a decade later Stubbs produced three oval versions in enamel: Haymaking, 1794 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), Haymakers, 1795 (Lady Lever Art Gallery), and Reapers, 1795 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut). The general composition of the labourers in Haymakers, 1795 is similar to that of The Harvest Wagon. The man pitchforking sheaves on to the cart is particularly close in both works and the man on top of the cart, seen from behind and heavily stooped, seems to anticipate the figure in the haymaking scene painted in enamel in 1795. Harvest Wagon has been catalogued since 1910 as being in the collection of Revd R.L. Barker, however parish records show it was in fact Reverend Baker living at Charlbury in 1886. The picture left his collection and passed through other hands, but more than fifty years later, in 1939, it was known to belong to Colonel George H. Barnett, C.M.G., D.S.O. (1880-1942) at Glympton Park, Oxfordshire. George Barnett was married by this time to Mary Dorothea (b. 1876), daughter of Revd R.L. Baker. It is charming to think that the picture was cherished by Mary in her childhood and that she either bought or was gifted it years later. One of the collections Harvest Wagon passed into after Revd R.L. Baker was that of Major George Conrad Roller (1856-1941). Roller was a friend of John Singer Sargent; indeed Sargent painted Roller in 1892 (Private Collection). Roller was also an amateur artist who would later turn professional, travelling with Sargent on one (if not more) of his trips to Europe. Roller was one of the pioneer St Ives artists and a founding member of the St Ives Arts Club in 1890. He was also Sporting Advertisement Designer to Burberry for nearly forty years as well as a renowned picture restorer to the Royal Academy for twenty years. In his day, Stubbs's pictures commanded prices on a par with those of other leading artists, however he was not prolific. His highly technical pictures required time to paint to his exacting standards. He created around 400 paintings over his entire career, by contrast his contemporary Sir Joshua Reynolds painted nearer 1,000 over a much shorter period of production. Many of Stubbs's works are in public collections and works in oil appear only rarely on the open market, indeed all other known works from the harvest series are no longer in private hands. Bibliography J. Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 2007. B. Taylor, Stubbs, London, 1971. W. Gilbey, Life of George Stubbs R.A., London, 1898. The Harvest Wagon's likely pendant of the same dimensions and also on millboard 'Landscape painted from Nature, at the time of the Hay Harvest, with Mowers and Haymakers' was in Stubbs's Studio Sale, lot 74, but now untraced. (J. Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter Catalogue Raisonné, London, 2007, p.478).
About the provenance
Stubbs's studio sale, 26 May 1807, lot 76, as Landscape, a View from Nature during the Corn Harvest; Men loading a Cart with Corn, and Women and Children gleaning, bt anon. £43.1s; Revd R.L. Baker, Charlbury, 1886; anon. sale (Major Roller, Tadley), Christie's, London, 10 December 1910, lot 88, as The Harvest-Wagon, sold 6? gns, bt Renton; Col. G. H. Barnett, Glympton Park, 1939; with Leggett Brothers, from whom purchased by a private collector; anon. sale, Christie's, 22 March 1974, lot 36, bt Roy Miles; private collection; with Anthony Mould, London. private collection
About the literature
J. Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 2007, pp. 478-9, cat. no. 252, Illustrated.