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Object of the month: January 2016

Sir George Clausen RA, 'Landscape with snow, Carency' (1919)

Published 1 January 2016

“There was always landscape,” George Clausen RA said of his painting.

  • This sketch was made in preparation for Clausen’s commission from Lord Beaverbrook’s Canadian War Memorials Fund to paint Returning to the Reconquered Land (1919; Canadian War Museum, Ottawa).

    Clausen was born in London to Danish and Scottish parents. He trained at the National Art Training School and worked as an assistant to the classical painter Edwin Long (1829–1891). However, his move from London to Childwick Green and a term spent at the Academie Julian in Paris inspired a new direction in his work, which embraced painting scenes of rural life, depicted in a realistic and natural manner. In his Autobiographical Notes, Clausen described this painting as encompassing “people doing simple things under good conditions of lighting: and there was always landscape. And nothing was made easy for you: you had to dig out what you wanted”.

  • Sir George Clausen RA, Landscape with snow, Carency

    Sir George Clausen RA , Landscape with snow, Carency , Probably late January, 1919 .

    Watercolour and pencil on wove paper. © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

  • During the First World War, Clausen was appointed as an official war artist. He visited Carency in late January 1919 to research his painting for the Canadian War Memorials Fund. Carency is a village north of the city of Arras where Canadian troops were deployed during the First World War in the battle to re-capture Vimy Ridge from the Germans in 1917. This sketch depicts a snow-covered landscape with four bare trees in the foreground surrounding an abandoned building. There are forest plantations and a frozen river in the distance.

    Although the location portrayed in Returning to the Reconquered Land is apparently the village of Ablain St. Nazaire, near Vimy Ridge (a sign hammered onto a shattered tree trunk at the far left of the painting announces; “THIS IS [crossed out] WAS/ ABLAIN ST NAZAIRE”), this landscape sketch was almost certainly used as a study for the background of the painting.

    January’s artist of the month is Richard Westall RA. See more from the RA Collection.