About the artwork
This picture together with work by Whistler and John Linnell is presently on loan, as an exchange from Tate Britain which has borrowed several pictures from the Lady Lever Art Gallery for their current exhibition of the work of John Millais.
'A Country Cricket Match' shows a scene, ‘an everyday story of country folk’, at Ashington in West Sussex in the 1870s. Despite the picture’s title, the artist has chosen to focus on the drama enacted off the field rather than the game. The cricket match has been relegated to an incidental detail in the distance of this bold composition. The picture’s subject is the spectators rather than the players.
As with most painted scenes the composition is divided into three distinct parts, distance, middle distance and foreground. In all of these areas, figures are predominant. There is a fascinating cast of characters, men, women and children, workers and gentry; and a wide variety of activities, costume, postures; reclining, seated, standing, are depicted by the artist.
The most important and clearly diverse group of figures are gathered around a marquee and table in the foreground, few of whom seem to be watching the cricketers visible in the distance; rather they seem more preoccupied with their drinks than the day’s play.
The red Bass triangle
On the right of the picture there is a significant positioning of beer barrel and cricket bat from which we may infer that on this occasion drinking is as equally important as batting. In the middle of the table stands a distinctive dark bottle with a cream label on which there is printed a red triangle. This is a bottle of Bass with its’ red triangle trade mark, the first registered trade mark in world, devised in 1876. Six years after Reid painted this picture, Manet was to paint exactly the same bottles in his celebrated depiction of modern life, 'The Bar at the Folies-Bergère'.
The figures round the table also display a wide variety of gestures and expressions and it is these expressions of rapt attention, satisfaction or distraction, together with telling details such as the glasses, matches and pipes that litter the table and the discarded pads and gloves on the grass that impart a powerful authenticity to the scene.
We are easily drawn in to an everyday drama and compelled to speculate the reasons for the despondent expression of the boy in the smock, holding a stick; and to question what exactly is the relationship between the cricketer in the cap and the young woman carrying the tray of drinks? He pulls at and unties her ribbon choker in a manner that is faintly indecent.
Contrasts of colour and tone
Throughout the composition there are brilliant contrasts of colour and tone which arrest the attention of the viewer. There are parts of the picture that appear unfinished or are painted in a sketchy fashion but it is precisely this lively, ragged brushwork that animates the picture surface and infuses the figures with the breath of life.
The artist - John Robertson Reid
John Robertson Reid studied at the Edinburgh School of Art and the Royal Scottish Academy. At the age of 25 he was exhibiting in London at the Royal Academy and before the age of 30 his picture Toil and Pleasure was purchased by the Chantrey Bequest. [This was a fund established in the 1870s to purchase work by British artists, in order to establish a national collection of British art.] His picture which depicts agricultural labourers pausing to watch the hunt ride through the field of turnips which they are harvesting is also in the collection of the Tate Gallery.
Groups of figures in a landscape setting became a successful and enduring theme for the artist. In 1881 he moved to Cornwall and began to paint ‘en plein- air’ that is to paint outdoors, direct from nature and frequently at the same time to paint local people acting as artists’ models.
Reid’s work sold well, in 1884 the Walker Art Gallery purchased his 'Rival Grandfathers', a scene set in a Cornish fishing port. In 1901 he moved to London but apart from the purchase by the Chantrey Bequest, he received no official recognition, perhaps because of the experimental quality of his later work and the generally conservative mood of the world of British art. He never became an associate or a member of the Royal Academy. However his work was a great influence on an important group of young Scottish artists of the 1890s, the Glasgow Boys as they were known.