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London’s suburbs spread rapidly from 1850 on, with Londoners keen to escape the city for the pretence of something closer to nature. One such middle-class neighbourhood was Haverstock Hill in South Hampstead, where the painter George Clausen rented a studio at a time when he was recording scenes of modern life in a manner inspired by the latest French painting. Here, a line of schoolgirls proceeds up the street, chaperoned by their schoolmistress. The apparent naturalness of the schoolgirls, and the unusual cropping of their figures, prompted a critic in the Times (London) to declare approvingly that 'the whole composition seems so spontaneous and unforced.' Yet Clausen subtly probes at Victorian proprieties. There is a hint of sexual frisson in the schoolgirls’ direct gazes, as well as lurking class conflict: the wealthy girls pointedly ignore the poor flower seller, while the aging milkmaid stares at them from the road with a look of undisguised contempt.
oil on canvas
H 52.1 x W 77.2 cm
Paul Mellon Collection
signed and dated, lower left: .G. Clausen. 1880.