The English Peasant Art
Of Sir George Clausen
(Part 3)

Dateline: 9 March 2014

Sir George Clausen, self portrait

In Part 2 of this mini-series about the peasant art of English painter, George Clausen, I mentioned that I would tell how he came to be knighted and, thereafter, be known as Sir George Clausen. It turns out he was knighted for a mural he painted, but it is not a mural featuring peasants. It is a painting titled The English People Reading Wycliffe's Bible. It was painted in 1925-27 and is in the english House of Parliament. Here is a picture of the mural…

The English People Reading Wycliffe's Bible
(click the painting to see a larger view, and notice 
the field with it's shocks of grain in the background)

For those who don't know, John Wycliffe was a priest who translated the Bible into English (from the Latin Vulgate) and smuggled the copies into England. He was persecuted by the Catholic church for doing so. Thirty years after his death (of stroke) his bones were exhumed and burned by the church. Wycliffe paved the way for the Reformation.


Back to Sir George Clausen…. 

I can't find a lot about George Clausen's life but I did find the following quote from friends describing him:"In personal character he was quiet, modest, kindly and of courtly manners," and "Clausen was a horribly domestic creature full of regard for old friends and obviously a happy nature in happy circumstances." In short, he sounded like a nice chap. 

Here are some more examples of George Clausen's peasant art, examples that give us a glimpse into the agrarian way of life that once was:

Frosty March Morning

The Stone Pickers

Boy Threshing

The Shepherdess
The Stars Coming Out


The Midland Agrarian said...

Hi Herrick,
Thanks for sharing these paintings. There is however, a sad aspect to these works, when one realizes most of the people depicted were tenants on the estates of great lords, or landless day laborers, who lived in crummy huts. A recently read that in Queen Elizabeth I's time, there was an attempt to enforce a law that no cottage should have less than 4 acres for the use of the tenant, but that law was widely ignored.

Herrick Kimball said...


Thanks for the perspective. I didn't know that, but I should have. So these peasants were not freeholders, in the early American sense of the word.

I believe there are still very large tracts of land in the English rural countryside that are owned by one wealthy landlord, and these areas would have been handed down through the generations. I think I should do some research on this.

Bart said...

Outstanding presentation! Thank you for showing, through art, a way of life that is wholesome, healthy, and right.

Anonymous said...

There is a very interesting book by an English historian, Michael Wood, called Domesday, A Search for the Roots of England. It's the story of the information requested and recorded by William the Conqueror's civil servants, for taxation purposes, after he achieved the throne of England, . The detailed investigation of each person's land, animals, and family to see what they currently paid in tax was so intense that the record was compared to the reckoning in Revelations, at the Last Judgment (hence the name Domesday = Doomsday). The book, which is still extant, shows the size of fields and pastures and in some cases the listing can show the original nationality of the owner - Saxon, Dane, etc.- and their social status. Comparing this record with current land photos/maps shows that some fields and pastures today still have the same or similar boundaries as was recorded in the 1100's. In many cases they were held and inherited by the same families for hundreds of years. Here is a link to the book on Amazon. (I checked it out from my public library.)

A very sad fact of history is that the great Irish emigration to America was largely caused by the British landlords evicting Irish peasants from their land. Running sheep and cattle on it, with the meat sold (and exported) brought in more money than the rent from the peasants. The peasants could be evicted at will, their holdings cut for any reason, and any improvements that they made on the property reverted to the landlord. (Add the Potato Famine to this and you have a recipe for revolt.) The Irish brought to America (and to the Democratic Party) the idea that a government has a moral responsibility to provide certain things for its citizens, such as a "living wage", and to supply for the worker adequate housing and medical care. These ideas go straight back to the relationship of the peasant to his landlord.

Herrick Kimball said...