This drawing of a harvest scene, wonderful though it is in itself, was actually a study for an oil painting.

The artist, George Clausen, was middle-aged by the time he drew it, but he could already look back on an illustrious career. Happily, he still had several more decades of productive professional life to seal his reputation as a remarkable British artist and a valued contributor to the Royal Academy (RA).

Born on 18 April 1852 in London, Clausen was encouraged by his Danish interior decorator father to develop his talent and skills in art. He won a scholarship to the National Art Training Schools in South Kensington, and spent part of the 1870s on the continent, studying in Antwerp and travelling to Belgium, Holland and northern France. There he began the work that he clearly relished, studying the peasants as they went about their hard, daily grind of earning their living from the land.

One of his early influences was the work of contemporary French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage, who adopted the style of “plein air painting” or painting outdoors.

In 1881 Clausen married Agnes Mary Webster, and the young couple moved out of London to rural Hertfordshire, where Agnes acted as his model for scenes such as View of a Lady in Pink standing in a Cornfield.

By 189l Clausen was confidently developing his own form of Impressionism, and his paintings of farmyards and old barns were widely admired by critics for their uninhibited brushwork and atmospheric lighting.

But by the early 1900s, he was living back in the city, having become a full Academician at the RA in 1906, and his rural work was confined to brief trips for occasional sketches in the Essex countryside. The figurative element in his work, seen in this study, grew less as he had fewer opportunities to observe labourers all year round.

Clausen’s career continued to flourish into old age. He was in his early 60s with a formidable reputation as an RA lecturer and Professor of Painting when he was appointed an official war artist in the First World War. During that period he produced a number of large-scale allegorical works. And in 1925, aged 73, he was asked to contribute to a mural scheme to decorate St. Stephen’s Hall in the Palace of Westminster.

He died on 22 November 1944, aged 92 in Cold Ash, Newbury.

This study was made in 1896, and is one of four drawings by Clausen that Swindon is fortunate to have in the Museum and Art Gallery’s collection of modern British art.

We don’t know the location, though it is highly likely that Clausen drew it from real life, and we know little about the generous benefactor who gave it to Swindon, other than that he was one Rev J F Marquis in 1946. If you can shed any light on who the good reverend was – and whether he lived in Swindon – please let us at the museum and art gallery know! Email

n You can find out more about Swindon’s story at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 4.30pm.

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