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Creator:
George Clausen, 1852–1944, British
Title:

Schoolgirls

Former Title(s):

Schoolgirls, Haverstock Hill

Date:
1880
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Support (PTG): 20 1/2 x 30 3/8 inches (52.1 x 77.2 cm)
Inscription(s)/Marks/Lettering:

Signed and dated, lower left: ".G. Clausen. 1880."

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1985.10.1
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
apron (main garment) | basket | beggar | bonnet | book | buttons (fasteners) | contrast | daughters | elderly | eyeglasses | flower (plant) | genre subject | girls | gloves | milkmaid | parasol | posy | professor | pupils | ribbon | school | schoolgirls | selling | shawl | shawls | spectacles | street | street vendor | students | town | umbrella | Victorian | walking | yoke | youth
Associated Places:
England | London | United Kingdom
Access:
On view in the galleries
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5055
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London’s suburbs spread rapidly from 1850 on, with Londoners keen to escape the city for the pretense of something closer to nature. One such middle-class neighborhood was Haverstock Hill in South Hampstead, where the painter George Clausen rented a studio at a time when he was recording scenes of modern life in a manner inspired by the latest French painting. Here, a line of schoolgirls proceeds up the street, chaperoned by their schoolmistress. The apparent naturalness of the schoolgirls, and the unusual cropping of their figures, prompted a critic in the Times (London) to declare approvingly that "the whole composition seems so spontaneous and unforced." Yet Clausen subtly probes at Victorian proprieties. There is a hint of sexual frisson in the schoolgirls’ direct gazes, as well as lurking class conflict: the wealthy girls pointedly ignore the poor flower seller, while the aging milkmaid stares at them from the road with a look of undisguised contempt. Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2020



Painted relatively early in the artist's career, this modern-life subject was presumably much influenced by the art of James Tissot, who enjoyed considerable success in the 1870s in London. The subject is a group of pupils from a ladies' academy taking a midday walk, lined up in "crocodile" fashion, the eldest girls leading the way, while the bespectacled schoolmistress brings up the rear with the youngest. At either side of the group are figures drawn in sharp social contrast, the milk maid and the flower-girl, to whom the schoolgirls respond with various degrees of compassion or indifference. Haverstock Hill in South Hampstead was a solidly middle-class neighborhood where Clausen rented a studio in Tasker Road. The girl in light blue was a favorite model of the artist's at this date.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2008
Some pupils from a ladies' academy, the fashionably dressed daughters of well-to-do parents, are taking a midday walk in the street, lined up in a "crocodile" with the eldest at the head. Near them are female types clearly positioned by the artist to set off, by means of contrast, the blessings of youth, good looks, class, and education that the girls are fortunate enough to enjoy: a comically plain, bespectacled stick-figure of a schoolmistress brings up the rear; to the left an elderly milkmaid looks on, carrying her churns by that very emblem of the working class, a yoke across her shoulders; to the right a young flower girl, the lowliest of street vendors, practically a beggar, offers the girls a posy. The presence of the milkmaid and the flower girl, with their ruddy, outdoor complexions and the rural associations of their jobs, also suggests the idea of country as against town. The girls seem unaware of the milkmaid, but toward the poor flower girl-who is trying to attract their attention -show a range of responses from charity and pity to patent indifference: one girl holds her hand down to drop a coin; the girl on the far left turns her head with a becomingly melting expression; some, notably the one in front, look fixedly ahead.
The location of the scene is neither country nor town exactly, but suburban north London. The girls are walking down Haverstock Hill in the southern part of Hampstead, a distinctively modern, middle-class environment. The artist was renting one of the Mall Studios on nearby Tasker Road at the time, so the setting of his picture was almost on his doorstep. In all likelihood he painted the setting largely on the spot and the figures largely in the studio, making pencil studies for both in the sketchbooks that he always kept as part of his working process.
The most immediate precedent in Britain for this kind of modern-life scene, combining feminine beauty, fashion, and an understated element of social commentary, lay in the paintings of James Tissot, who had lived in London and enjoyed increasing success since 1871. Still young and casting around for a style to develop as his own, Clausen seems to have been looking particularly to Tissot at this point in his career. The slightly titillating way in which the girl dressed in light blue looks out of the picture, as if making eye contact with an assumed male viewer, is a typically Tissot-like touch; the line of girls behind her might represent the stages of girlhood, progressing from the mere children at the back to young women ripe for exchanges of looks with admirers. Like Venus in a Judgment of Paris, she is flanked by others not quite as pretty as she, and our encounter with her is given immediacy by the cutting-off of her figure by the bottom edge of the canvas, a device the artist may well, again, have borrowed from Tissot. The distinctive technique in which the work is painted, with its suggestions of the "raw" brushwork and color of avant-garde painting on the Continent, owes something to both Tissot and to the conservative form of Impressionism developed by Jules Bastien-Lepage, a key influence on many young British artists around this time.
Such foreign influences were a touchy issue, and it is typical that even those who admired Schoolgirls when it was first exhibited found the combination of everyday, modern subject and relatively adventurous technique difficult to take. "The first feeling about this picture is an angry one-that the artist should make all his damsels' features so blunt and indefinite in outline, and their complexions of such purply tinge," wrote the critic of The Times (November 20, 1880); but if we get over these drawbacks, and that, perhaps, of
the subject itself-for schoolgirls in close column with
lampposts behind, and a longish vista of pavement can
hardly be said to lend themselves to pictorial treatment …
what a fresh and charming little picture it is!"
The girl in light blue was a favorite model of Clausen's, and she also appears in his follow-up picture of 1881, a larger scene of people on the same street entitled A Spring Morning, Haverstock Hill (Bury Art Gallery). After this he moved to the country and abandoned street scenes in favor of agricultural subjects, some presenting rural life with the bleakness of Thomas Hardy's novels.

Malcome Warner

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 155, 168, no. 69

Acquisitions : The First Decade 1977-1986, Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1986, pp. 8, 9, 12, no. 6, col. pl. 12, N590.2 A7 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Artist as narrator, nineteenth century narrative art in England and France. , Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, 2005, p.50, fig. 14, ND1452 G7 A77 2005 + (YCBA)

Susan P. Casteras, Images of Victorian womanhood in English art, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Rutherford, NJ, 1987, p. 45, fig. 24, N6767.5 V52 C37 11987 + (YCBA)

Christie's Sale Catalogue: Important British and Irish art : 11 June 2003, Christie's, Christie's (UK), London, 2003, p. 75, Lot 10, fig. 2, Sales Catalogues (YCBA)

Jay A. Clarke, Becoming Edvard Munch, influence, anxiety, and myth , The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Art Intitute of Chicago New Haven, CT, 2009, p. 41, fig. 42, NJ18 M96 C53 2009 (HAAS)

Robert Colls, This sporting life : sport and liberty in England, 1760-1960, Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 2020, p. 369, pl. 7.2, GV706.35 .C65 2020 (LC) YCBA

Figuring women, the female in modern British art. , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2008, pp. 8-9, V 1925 (YCBA)

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 155, 168, no. 69, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Kenneth McConkey, George Clausen and the picture of English rural life, Atelier Books, Edinburgh, 2012, pp. 6 (color detail), 35, 36, 37, fig. 40, NJ18.C5652 M33 2012 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA)

Duncan Robinson, Acquisitions : The First Decade 1977 - 1986, , Burlington Magazine, vol. 128, October 1986, p. 8, 9, 12, no. 6, col. pl. 12, N1 B87 128:3 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Eric Shanes, Impressionist London, Abbeville Press, New York, 1994, p. 66, no. 49, ND470 S52 1994 + (YCBA)

Sotheby's sale catalogue : British Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture : 15 May 1985, Sotheby's, London, May 15, 1985, Lot 51, fig. 51, Auction Catalogues (YCBA) unbound cataogue

Denys Sutton, The Sale-Room, Apollo, vol. 122, August 1985, p. 165, N1 A54 122:1 OVERSIZE

What Makes the Thinker Think, Country Life, v. 178, July, 1985, p. 24, fig. 1, S3 C68 + (YCBA)


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