Thursday, July 21, 2011
George Stubbs (1724-1806)
Tate Britain, London
Oil On Wood
52 5/8 Inches By 35 13/16 Inches
“The Haymakers” is one of George Stubbs’s most renowned paintings.
It is been accounted a great painting, and it has been accounted not a great painting in the least.
It is a striking, even moving, depiction of British agricultural workers during the time of The American Revolution. There is an unmistakable and quintessential British quality to the painting—the persons portrayed in the painting could never be mistaken for French, German or Italian workers—and the hallmarks of British landscape painting are all over the canvas.
Stubbs does not attempt to conceal the fact that life for these laborers was a difficult one—and yet he ennobles them in myriad ways: the canvas’s pyramid arrangement is borrowed from Italian Renaissance masters; the workers, beneath their heavy clothing, are seen in Classical pose; and the persons are dressed for Sunday Service, not for a day in the fields. Stubbs’s use of such devices has been both praised and criticized.
The central figure is shown staring from the center of the canvas, almost challenging the viewer to take in the scene and render philosophical judgment.
Unlike comparable French paintings of the period, there is no individuality in the persons depicted in “The Haymakers”. They are archetypes, not unique human beings.
“The Haymakers” is susceptible to many interpretations—it may be viewed as landscape painting or genre painting or history painting or political statement.
Great painting or mere “conversation piece”, “The Haymakers” has held a place of distinction in British art for over 200 years.