Object Image

In the Orchard

This autumn picture, showing rosy-cheeked children collecting apples in an orchard, represents a pivotal point in Guthrie's career. Guthrie began this painting in 1885 in the village of Cockburnspath in the Scottish Borders, where he had gone in 1883, wanting to immerse himself in rural life, painting out of doors, inspired by the French Naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage. He was joined from time to time by fellow Glasgow Boys painters E. A. Walton, George Henry, Arthur Melville and Joseph Crawhall, but they only stayed for short periods, leaving Guthrie socially and intellectually isolated. Although he was to become President of the Royal Scottish Academy and a fashionable society portraitist, in the early 1880s he nearly gave up painting entirely because of feelings of inadequacy. He was persuaded to keep at it by his cousins the Gardiners.

Guthrie's struggles and changes of heart are evident in this complex and ambitious painting. The paint is overworked and shows many changes of mind. Preparatory sketches in NGS show how he originally conceived of the composition as portrait in format with a woman holding a basket of apples and a young girl kneeling. He later changed the painting to landscape in format, with two children. A red-haired girl, kneels in profile on the right, handing apples from her white-aproned lap to a boy, who stands holding a basket of apples. It is heavy and he holds it with two hands. The girl is modelled on Jo, one of the daughters of Glasgow dentist and amateur artist John G. Whyte, an early supporter of Guthrie. A group of white ducks can be seen on the left and a haystack in the right background, against which is balanced a ladder.

The painting is rather enigmatic and wistful in mood and symbolic in subject. Themes of childhood as connected to autumn and the passing of time have been frequently tackled by artists. The apple recalls the Fall, the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden, where Eve took and ate the forbidden apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and then offered it to Adam, a story long associated with sexual knowledge, fruit carrying associations with fertility and sexuality. Here, the suggestion is of coming of age, the gaining of knowledge, with the season of autumn evoking the fragility of life and the passing of youth and innocence.

At this time the Glasgow Boys were developing a more decorative and patterned approach to landscape. Significantly Guthrie completed the painting in 1886 in Kirkcudbright in Dumfries & Galloway, where he went to join Hornel, accompanied by Henry. Hornel's decorative, broken brushwork was no doubt influential. There is a sense of patterning in Guthrie's brushwork that unites foreground and background, figures and trees. The reds, golds, and greens seem to be woven throughout the canvas. There is also compositional patterning apparent in the vertical lines of trees and figures.

The painting was exhibited for the first time in 1887 at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts as Apple Gatherers. The painting's enigmatic and wistful mood was considered overly ponderous by Glasgow critics, who also censured its lack of perspective and self-importance of scale. However, it received an honourable mention at the Paris Salon in 1889 and also found critical acclaim at the Munich International Exhibition in 1890, which was the start of the Glasgow Boys burgeoning international reputation. It was bought by Helensburgh collector Thomas George Bishop, founder of the grocery chain Cooper & Co.

Credit: Purchased jointly by Glasgow Life and the National Galleries of Scotland with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund, 2012

Oil on canvas
1525.0 x 1780.0mm
Images and text: CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection, 2023