'Reapers', 1785

Painting of a field with a man on a brown horse beside various characters gathering hay

© Tate Britain, London 2006

The label text for this painting in the exhibition 'George Stubbs: A Celebration' has been written by Loyd Grossman, broadcaster and chairman of trustees, National Museums Liverpool.

"It's very hard to look at it with fresh eyes when you know what the context is. The picture presents this timeless, stately, clean, relaxing vision of pastoral life - good, honest labour being carried out by good honest people working in a benevolent society. And of course the skies are blue and the sun is shining. It's the kind of scene you might put on a tourist promotion calendar. You have to put that against the reality of life in the late eighteenth century. The industrial revolution is beginning to crank up and social and economic upheaval is going on all around.

Leaving all that aside, formally it's such a beautifully constructed picture. The frieze-like arrangement of the reapers is really, really beautiful - and the motion across the picture from left to right leads up to the overseer, who's the triangle that anchors the picture on the right hand side. The way that the shape of the workers is echoed in the tree line in all the nice pyramidal forms - as a formal bit of composition it's absolutely fantastic."

Further information about this painting

  • Painted by George Stubbs (1724 - 1806)
  • Oil on wood
  • 90 x 137 cm

This painting is from the collections of Tate Britain, London|. Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, the National Art Collections Fund, the Pilgrim Trust, and subscribers, 1977.