Leighton, Clare

(1898 – 1989)

The Reaper (BPL 221), 1933

SKU: 5467

Original woodblock, 8.8 x 6.9 cm

Height: 8.8cm
Width: 6.9cm


Private Collection

The Reaper (BPL 221) appears as the title page of one of Clare Leighton’s

most celebrated books, The Farmer’s Year: A Calendar of English

Husbandry (1933). From Lambing’ in January to The Fat Stock

Market’ in December, Leighton’s text and full page engravings provide a

remarkable account of English farming before the advent of agribusiness.

Clare would typically take several days to produce a wood engraving,

painstakingly carving the image with special tools strong enough to incise

into the end grain of the block, which was typically made of boxwood,

sufficiently hard to allow for a number of prints to be made before any

loss of sharpness.

This engraving shows the labourer setting out to reap the harvest of a

whole year’s varied travail, to cut and gather by hand what today requires

the use of fuel wrung from the bowels of the earth. His right hand holds

the tip of the blade to keep it from damage and from harming any

passer-by. His left keeps the scythe neatly balanced on his shoulder; from

his waist hangs a sharpening stone which he will need to use again and

again as the work proceeds.

In addition to the artist’s personal acquaintance with the scythe

(always loath to portray what she had not herself experienced, she

learnt to ….stroke the grasses to their death’) we can be sure that its

constructional details are accurate. This illustrates one of Clare Leighton’s

dearest principles; any criticism from a farm worker would have shamed

her profoundly.

Commentary by David Leighton, Clare Leighton’s nephew and artistic executor. He is author of Clare Leighton: The Growth and Shaping of an Artist-Writer (2009).

We are grateful to David Leighton, the artist’s nephew and artistic executor for assistance.

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Leighton, Clare

1898 – 1989

Clare Leighton attended the Brighton School of Art (1915), the
Slade School of Fine Art (1921’23) and the Central School of Arts
and Crafts. Despite her childhood nickname ‘The Bystander’, she
became a hugely visible artist on both sides of the Atlantic, and her
vast oeuvre includes engravings, paintings, bookplates, illustrations
and stained glass. Her twelve plates for Wedgwood, New England
Industries, 1952, are amongst her best-known work. 

She exhibited with the SWE in London (1923) and at the
1934 Venice Biennale ‘ attaining full membership to the Royal
Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in the same year. She also
made several tours of the United States, becoming a naturalised
citizen in 1945. By the time of her death, Leighton had authored
twelve books and made over 840 prints.


Clare Leighton
The Reverend Hill Walks Away, BPL500, 1942
Clare Leighton
The Darking Thrush, Hardy Shepherds, (Thomas Hardy), BPL 774b 1965
Clare Leighton
Singing, BPL 723 1957
Clare Leighton
I went by the field (Psalms), BPL 667 1952
Clare Leighton
Tulip Poplar Bud BPL 517 1942
Clare Leighton
The Cello Player, BPL 722, circa 1957
Clare Leighton
Cinnamon Fern, BPL 508 1942
Clare Leighton
Louisiana Pilgrimage (BPL 525), 1942
Clare Leighton
Frontispiece Ellen… (BPL 564), 1944
Clare Leighton
Cotton Picker (BPL 491), Cotton Frontispiece, 1942
Clare Leighton
BPL 664 Hear ye children (BPL664) Psalms, circa 1952
Clare Leighton
Miller (BPL 497)