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Lot 38: Walter Frederick Osborne, R.H.A. (1859-1903)


by Christie's

May 15, 2003

London, United Kingdom

James Campbell (1828-1903) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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Description: The Farmyard oil on canvas 25 5/8 x 18 in. (65 x 46 cm.) PROVENANCE The Rev. Charles Edward Osborne, the artist's brother. Anon. sale; Phillips London, 22 July 1980, lot 57, where purchased by the present owner. NOTES Walter Osborne spent much of 1883, from spring to winter, in Brittany, painting village and rustic subjects, and developing his talents as a plein-air Realistic artist. He was at Pont-Aven in Summer 1883, at the height of its popularity amongst Irish, British, Scandanavian and American artists, but a few years before the arrival of Gauguin. Osborne painted many street and farmyard scenes with figures, and a sketch of the harbour. One of his largest Breton paintings, Driving a Bargain. Market Scene in Pont-Aven, 1883, which recently appeared on the market, 1 depicts children and a large number of women in white coiffes, right in the centre of the town and near to the bridge, on a busy market day. However, generally Osborne preferred to select a little rustic corner, or farmyard subject, with one of two figures, away from the village. The Farm at Keramperchec (private collection) for example shows a man and a girl with two calves, beside a stone well outside a thatched farmhouse. 2 Keramperchec, a hamlet just outside Pont-Aven, along the estuary, was notable for its beautiful old stone well with graceful cupola, topped by a carved stone head. It attracted a number of artists, including Jonathan Pratt, who painted Preparations for the Market, 1876, (City Art Gallery, Bristol), Adrian Stokes c. 1886, Osborne, and his compatriate Nathaniel Hill in 1883 (Allied Irish Banks Collection, Dublin), Arthur Wesley Dow, c. 1885, and Paul Abram, c. 1895, as well as photographers in the early Twentieth century. Many other artists depicted other wells around Pont-Aven, and elsewhere in Brittany, for example, Henri Delavall‚e, J. Alden Weir, Helen Trevor and Joseph Boucher, as a focal point for their rustic scenes. The present painting by Osborne, The Farmyard is something of a companion picture to his Farm at Keramperchec, in that it shows a similar thatched farm building with open doorway, a stone well, and surrounding troughs and scattered stones, with nearby trees. The exact location of the setting is not known. It is referred to as Kerulec, near Le Poldu ( sic.). This most likely refers to Fo Le Pouldu, a coastal village downstream from Quimperl‚, where there was a small colony of artists in the late 1880's and nineties, and where Gauguin painted some of his most notable Breton works. It is possible that Osborne came here to get away from the crowds at Pont-Aven, or as an excursion from Quimperl‚ where he was painting in autumn 1883, seeking out his own motifs. But it is possible too that the picture was also painted at Pont-Aven, for the coiffe and costume which the girl wears appears to belong to this region. 3 The farm depicted could be that for example of 'KERLAOUEN', only two miles from Pont-Aven, off the old road to Quimperl‚. The prefix 'Ker' is ubiquitous in Brittany, and can refer to a village, hamlet, or farmhouse, or simply to a 'place'. This was certainly a quiet location, and the American artist Arthur Wesley Dow was one of the few artists who painted farmland here, in 1885. 4 There is a mysterious, ancient feeling to the setting in Osborne's painting. But the arrival of the girl with pitcher adds a gentle human presence to the scene. Characteristically, the artist gives attention to each part of the picture: to the human figure, the stone well and water troughs, the open doorway and old stones, as well as to the orchard, and foreground furze. Every stone and rough surface is observed in a careful way; this, combined with the realistic treatment of sunlight and shadow, evokes a crisply-focused, almost tangible world. Several of Osborne's Breton models have blunt features, and they stand still, facing the viewer. But here the girl is viewed from the side, her slender face in profile, and she is in the middle of walking. The strong modelling of the figure in sunlight and shadow, and the gently-observed profile beneath the white coiffe, have echoes of the 'heroic' figures of girls in many of Jules Breton's peasant paintings. Her figure is small in scale compared to the massive stone well. It was not unusual for Osborne to make preliminary drawings of his models, or to pose them separately from their settings. Yet here the figure is solidly grounded, her clogs casting shadows upon the uneven earth. The well is constructed of heavy granite blocks, and is high, with large stones supporting a flat 'pediment' stone, (in contrast to the graceful cupola at Keramperchec). Osborne has an eye for rustic detail, in the earthenware pitcher carried by the girl, and the branch in her other hand; the little basket on the ground behind the well, suggestive of human presence; and the circular stone above this. This is a grinding stone, used to sharpen knives, and the blades of scythes. 5 The tree trunk and green foliage behind are skillfully executed, anticipating the orchard scene depicted in Osborne's best-known Breton painting Apple Gathering in Quimperl‚ (National Gallery of Ireland). The Farmyard is unsigned, and it may not have been exhibited during Osborne's lifetime. It appears to have belonged to his brother Charles. Charles Edward Osborne was about three years older than the artist, and the two brothers enjoyed a close relationship. Charles was academically brilliant, and entered the church. He worked for a period in England, for example as assistant curate in the dock area of Landport, Portsmouth, 1886-1893. 6 He had a good collection of his brother's paintings, either being given them as a gift, purchasing them, or inheriting them after Walter's death. He generously bequeathed thirteen Osborne paintings to the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin. We are very grateful to Dr Julian Campbell for providing the above catalogue entry. 1 Anon. sale; James Adam and Bonhams, 29 May 2002, lot 23. 2 J. Campbell, 'Postcards from Brittany. Walter Osborne's Wallet of Photographs', Irish Arts Review, 17, 2001, p. 153. 3 I am very grateful to Mme. Catherine Puget, Conservateur of the Mus‚e de Pont-Aven, for suggestions concerning the costume of the girl, and location of this subject. 4 Frederick C. Moffatt, Arthur Wesley Dow, 1857-1922, Washington, 1977, p. 27. 5 Suggestion of Mme. Catherine Puget. 6 See Jeanne Sheehy, Walter Osborne, Cork, 1974.

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