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Object of the month: January 2014

Joseph Farquharson RA, When Snow the Pasture Sheets

Published 1 January 2014

Joseph Farquharson RA was a landscape painter who was celebrated for his winter scenes, which he infused with a strong sense of atmosphere and mood.

  • The low winter sun causes the tree to cast long shadows across the snowy field, typical of Farquharson’s frequent depictions of sunrise or dusk scenes. The unusual title is a line taken from act I scene IV of William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Farquharson often took the titles of his paintings from works of poetry.

    The artist was born in Edinburgh in 1846, and in the 1880s he went to Paris to study under Carolus Duncan. There he met John Singer Sargent, with whom he travelled to Cairo. Farquharson was Laird of the Finzean Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, which was where he executed many of his landscapes. He was able to impart a sense of intimacy of place in his works, as the artist also actively managed the estate, putting the money he made from his paintings back into developing the land.

    Even in those dark winter months he was always eager to paint en plein air, or outside rather than in his studio, which earned him the nickname ‘Frozen Mutton Farquharson’ among friends and audiences at the Royal Academy. He built a mobile horse-drawn caravan with a wood burning stove and a large window so that he could paint in the snowy fields with a modicum of comfort. Yet his compositions were not completely spontaneous - he paid the butcher and the taxidermist to create several model sheep that he could place around the scene as he pleased. In this way he conceptualized his paintings more as still lifes than as living landscapes, manipulating individual elements to achieve a perfect arrangement.

    His paintings were extremely popular during his career, though they fell out of public favour by the 1950s and have only recently regained their standing. This painting is the diploma work Farquharson submitted to the Royal Academy upon his acceptance as an Academician in 1915. Much of the artist’s commercial success and fame as a painter of winter scenes derived from his exhibition of a work of this type almost every year at the Royal Academy between 1895 and 1925. Farquharson continued to paint until his death in 1935, although in his last years his subjects were increasingly restricted to the beautiful gardens of Finzean.

    Find out more about this painting in the RA Collection.

  • Joseph Farquharson RA, When Snow the Pasture Sheets

    Joseph Farquharson RA, When Snow the Pasture Sheets, 1915.

    Oil on canvas.

    ©Royal Academy of Arts, London.

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