Going to the Hayfield

David Cox, English, 1783 - 1859

Geography:
Made in England, Europe

Date:
1849

Medium:
Oil on canvas

Dimensions:
28 x 36 inches (71.1 x 91.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
M1928-1-5

Credit Line:
The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928

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Additional information:
  • PublicationBritish Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Speaking to William Hall about one of the 1849 versions of Going to the Hayfield (1849, oil on canvas, 28 x 34" {71.1 x 86.4 cm.}, location unknown), David Cox said: ''I want to show a proper hay-making day-bright and sunny, of course, but with a brisk, drying wind sweeping across the fields, and making the fleecy clouds speed along the sky."1 The Hayfield was one of Cox’s favorite and most often repeated subjects; the image of the mounted farmer slowly making his way to the distant haymaking seems to have exerted a peculiar spell over the artist. So many versions exist in oil and watercolor that it is almost meaningless to count them, a task in any case made all the more difficult by Cox's use of the same title to cover all the variations on the theme. Thus, certain identification of Cox's pictures in exhibition or sales catalogues where dimensions are not given is extremely difficult. However, according to Solly, there are no exact replicas;2 and each version known to the author differs in slight details--the direction of the path, the inclusion of rustics, fences, and trees, and their placement.

    The composition of Going to the Hayfield dates from at least 1813, when the subject with the essential composition was published as plate 16 in Cox's Treatise on Landscape Painting. A watercolor entitled Going to the Hayfield was exhibited in 1838 at the galleries of the Society of Painters in Water Colour,3 and a watercolor (14 x 19 1/2") said in the sales catalogue to be dated 1839 passed through Christie's on May 1, 1908 (lot 41). An oil dated 1843 was lent by James Langton to the Cox exhibition at Liverpool in 1875 and may be the version exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844 (no. 296).4 A version securely dated 1848 exists, but the following year, 1849, was the year Cox apparently gave over to painting repetitions of the subject.

    Solly records four pictures with this title painted in 1849, for Messrs. Butler, Briscoe, Bullock, and Roberts.5 The versions painted for the first three gentlemen are known (although their present locations are unrecorded). For different reasons--either because we know their dimensions or have a photograph or a description--the first three can be ruled out as the Philadelphia picture. However, dimensions, description, and location of Mr. Roberts's picture are not known. It is possible that the Philadelphia picture may originally have belonged to him, but two facts must make us wary of a firm statement: first, Solly also records a version of Going to the Hayfield (14 x 8") that belonged to Roberts and was sold by him in 1867 (1849, oil on canvas?, possibly 14 x 8" {36 x 20 cm.}, location unknown). It is possible, however, that Roberts owned two versions of the composition, as did Edwin Bullock, who possessed both a large 1849 version (1849, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 {50.8 x 76.2 cm.} location unknown) and a small version dated 1853 (oil on canvas, 11 x 14 1/2” {27.9 x 36.8 cm.}, Birmingham, Birmingham City Art Gallery). Another reason to be wary of Solly's information is that there were more than four versions of the subject painted in 1849.

    On July 12, 1849, Cox wrote to Roberts: "I have nearly finished my picture for the Birmingham exhibition [1849, oil on canvas, 28 x 34" {71.1 x 86.4 cm.}, location unknown] and have got on very well with one ('Kit Cat') for Liverpool."6 If Cox was using the term "Kit-Cat" in the same sense of proportions as John Linnell (1792-1882) had7 the latter landscape measured twenty-eight by thirty-six inches, hence we might identify it with version 6 (1849, oil on canvas, 28 x 36" {71.1 x 91.4 cm.}). This version, measuring the same as the Philadelphia painting, was said by Solly to have been painted on the wrong side of the canvas. Again, this seems to be true of the Philadelphia oil. In addition to the six versions dated 1849 we can count at least thirteen other versions in oil. The watercolors would certainly double this number. Clearly Cox was painting some of these versions for dealers, and all his biographers stress the immense popularity of his work in Birmingham; apparently patrons signed blank canvases with their own names to reserve for themselves pictures Cox had not yet begun. Philadelphia's Going to the Hayfield is particularly haunting, as it includes only the figures of the rider, horses, and dog. Without the genre details--the women with pitchforks or children at fences--the image becomes more potent, the sense of loneliness and silence stressed, the emptiness of the landscape underscored.

    Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 72-75.

    1. William Hall.A Biography of David Cox with Remarks on His Works and Genius. Edited by John Thackray Bunce. London, Paris, and New York, 1881. p. 140.
    2. Nathaniel Neal Solly. Memoir of the Life of David Cox, with Selections from His Correspondence and Some Account of His Works. London, 1873. Reprint. London, 1973, p. 187.
    3. Ibid., p. 88.
    4. Reviewed by The Art-Union, vol. 67, suppl. (June 1, 1844), p. 160.
    5. Solly, 1873, p. 218.
    6. Ibid., p. 177.
    7. Evan R. Firestone. "John Linnell and the Picture Merchants."The Connoisseur, vol. 182 (February 1973), p. 131 n. 5.

    LITERATURE:
    William Roberts. Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Formed by John H. McFadden, Esq., of Philadelphia, Pa. London, 1917, p. 11.