Wednesday, September 29, 2010

John Morgan - A Village School in Bedfordshire

Price Realized £117,250

oil on canvas
22 x 36 in. (55.8 x 91.3 cm.)

Probably London, Royal Academy, 1870, no. 370.

This picture has traditionally been identified as A Village School in Bedfordshire, Morgan's RA exhibit of 1870. The subject, of schoolboys buying 'tuck' from a vendor in a schoolyard, carries echoes of The Fight, Morgan's hugely popular exhibit of 1869, which was sold from The Forbes Collection, Christie's, London, 19 February 2003, lot 16 (£260,000). Both are concerned with boyhood pre-occupations: the ability to purchase treats with which to supplement school food, and the wish to have a good punch up. Morgan no doubt included the cricket bat, prominent in the foreground of the present picture, to allude to the success of The Fight of the previous year, set against the backdrop of a country cricket pitch.

As Terry Parker points out, Morgan not only painted scenes of lawyers, doctors and dentists, but also featured tradesmen prominently in his work. Ginger Beer, exhibited at the RA in 1860, no. 572, shows a street-vendor plying his trade outside the entrance to a school, while a similar theme was treated in The School Pie Man, exhibited at the Glasgow Insititute of Fine Arts, 1873, no. 480.

Morgan's principal pre-occupation was with the antics of schoolchildren however. Leapfrog was exhibited at the French Gallery, 1861, no. 255, while other subjects were depicted in several versions, namely Snowballing (one of which can be seen in the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood), and Tug of War (painted in 1860, 1867, and 1879). The group of boys playing marbles in the far left of the present picture were first seen in a painting of 1863, and they also formed the subject of of Morgan's RA exhibit of 1872, no. 593. All of these pictures take place out of doors, while school interiors are featured in Those Naughty Boys (Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield), Left at School, Society of British Artists, 1871, no. 536, Ought and Carry One, Society of British Artists, 1871, no. 84, Cross your T's, Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts 1873, no. 154, and The Address to the Young, RA, 1874, no. 688.

The location of the present school has so far eluded us. Morgan occupied addresses in various towns in the south of England throughout his career leaving London for Aylesbury in 1865, and later residing Bedfordshire before moving to Guildford and Hastings. The building is not Pulford School, Leighton Buzzard, where Morgan occupied a house in Leck, now Lake Street, and painted Sums, Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, 1868, no. 129, or The Blot ('Whom to punish? No, Sir, I made the blot, But I didn't make the smear'), Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts 1869, no. 118. Morgan noted in his diary that the models for these pictures were taken from Pulford School, 'Mr Bateman the master being very attentive and kind'.

We are grateful to Terry Parker for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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