(click image to enlarge)
This pencil drawing of a crouching naked girl was produced as a study for George Clausen’s major oil, Youth Mourning (1916, Imperial War Museums). The painting provided a sensitive, if stark response to the loss of so many soldiers on the Western Front, by channelling the grief of the artist’s daughter, Katharine, at the death of her fiancé, Geraint Payne. A Second Lieutenant in the 1st Highland Light Infantry, Payne had been killed
in action at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, France, on 14 March 1915.
The painting shows a personification of Youth, prostrate before a grave marked by a wooden cross. The distant barren landscape, with its waterlogged craters, suggests a battlefield and evokes a sense of absence. The small plants in the foreground, pushing through the soil, may provide signs of hope.
When Youth Mourning was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1916, it elicited many positive reviews. It was acquired by C N Luxmoore of Torquay, the owner of at least three other works by Clausen. In 1929, Luxmoore presented it to the Imperial War Museum, and the other works to the Tate Gallery. Since then, it has come to epitomise both grief at those killed in war and a particular phase in Clausen’s career. As such, it was included in two major exhibitions: ‘Artists & the Great War’, held at the Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnic Art Gallery in 1979 (as No 6), and ‘Sir George Clausen RA, 1852-1944’, mounted by Bradford Art Galleries and Museums in 1980 (as No 20). As a study for the painting, the present example of Clausen’s strength of draughtsmanship holds similar connotations.