About the artwork
Joseph Farquharson is best known for his paintings of winter landscapes, usually snowy scenes featuring sheep and with poetic sounding titles. A human figure is often included. These are usually rural workers such as shepherds or farm labourers going about their work. Many of the snow pictures and landscape paintings were based on the surrounding countryside and woods of Farquharson's home at Finzean. 'The shortening winter's day is near a close' shows a flock of sheep and their shepherd in a snow covered field and the woods beyond. The scene is lit by the sun setting below the trees, casting light and long shadows across the field. The painting was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1903. It was praised in the catalogue:
"...for the ingenuity of painting, and for the power to convey the illusion of sunlight on snow, darkened by the shadows and the leafless trees behind which the winter sun is setting, this landscape is a tour de force..."
The painting received further praise for the effect created by the "prismatic colours" of the sunset. While his work became extremely successful and popular, it was not entirely free from criticism. The Magazine of Art suggested that Farquharson was guilty of:
"...turning out year after year what seem to be stereotyped repetitions of old effects..."
The artist Walter Sickert wrote of Farquharson's "extraordinary virtuosity" and praised his lightness of touch as "the mark of the real painter". Farquharson gave the same title to another painting which depicts a fox in the snow. His picture titles often sound like quotations but were usually thought of by the artist himself. The titles emphasise the mood and atmosphere of the paintings.
Joseph Farquharson was born in Edinburgh in 1846. His father Francis was a doctor and laird of Finzean in Aberdeenshire. Joseph inherited this title in 1918 after the death of his elder brother Robert, an MP. The young Farquharson was educated in Edinburgh and was allowed to paint on Saturdays using his father's paint box. Having received his own box of paints as a gift aged 12, he went on to exhibit his first picture at the Royal Scottish Academy the following year, aged only 13. The Scottish landscape artist Peter Graham was Farquharson's tutor for twelve years.
In 1873, Farquharson exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time. During the 1870s and 1880s, he spent time at the studio of the French academic artist Carolus-Duran in Paris. In 1883 achieved success with the sale of his painting 'The joyless winter day' to the Chantrey Fund (now the Tate Gallery). Between 1885 and 1893 Farquharson made a number of journeys to Egypt. He produced pictures inspired by his travels there. In 1915 he was elected to the Royal Academy, exhibiting over 200 pictures there in total.
When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy, 'The shortening winter's day' was shown alongside paintings by John Singer Sargent and Briton Riviere. You can see pictures by both of these artists on display at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. The art dealer Thomas Agnew purchased the painting from Farquharson on 25 March 1903 and sold it to Lever five days later for £850.
In later life, Farquharson spent time painting flower pictures and some portraits. As laird of Finzean, his home in Aberdeenshire was said to have been carpeted in tartan and a venue for numerous parties. At his death in 1935, at the age of 89, he was thought to be the oldest living British artist. Among his many bequests, he left £500 to the Artist's General Benevolent Institution.