The Stone Pickers
Sir George Clausen
Oil on canvas
After George Clausen
She’s light and wild enough yet to have more in common with meadow flowers.
Stubborn flickers of white and bruised chicory scissor through the grassy slope
while her grandmother, drab in sacking, nearer my age now, is stooped, almost
on her knees, apron weighed down with a harvest of scree and muddy limestone.
The girl’s face is tender though she already knows too much: a scarlet cloth
flares in the tumbled basket and jug. Thin trees jut against a northern sky –
all I can do is keep on, keep on walking towards them, and pick stones
from the furrowed page to make room for harebell, lady’s smock, three-leaf clover.
On a recent visit to the Laing Art Gallery I was pleased to spend some time with The Stone Pickers again – touched by a small detail I hadn’t noticed when I wrote my poem: the small stone still caught in the girl’s apron.
The wall text tells us that:
Clausen (1852-1944) was the son of a decorative artist of Danish descent (It doesn’t tell us if this was his mother or his father). From 1867 to 1873, he attended design classes at South Kensington Schools (known today as the Royal College of Art), and subsequently studied in Paris…He was influenced by French plein-air painting – the practice of painting outdoors – and began to paint the rural field workers around his Hertfordshire home in the 1880s. The Stone Pickers was purchased in 1907 from Artists of the Northern Counties, a selling exhibition held annually at the Laing from 1905 until 1935. Clausen was an official artist during the First World War.
Stonepicker from The Knucklebone Floor (Smokestack 2022).