While his immense talent should have marked him out as one of the leading lights of early British modernism, Mark Gertler is not particularly well known. Until recently, critics and art historians have concentrated on other English painters of his generation, such as Stanley Spencer, David Bomberg, Duncan Grant and Augustus John. Gertler’s relative obscurity may be due, in part, to the fact that his career ended abruptly when, dogged by depression and ill health and frustrated by his recent lack of success, he took his own life. Or it may be due to the fact that Gertler was something of an artistic loner; he had no imitators and formed no school.
After gaining a scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art in 1908, Gertler proved an outstanding student, winning several prizes. The apple woman and her husband belongs to the period immediately following Gertler’s heady successes at the Slade. The sitters are the artist’s parents, Louis and Golda, who were patient models for a number of portraits and family groups executed by Gertler while he was a student. This painting, however, is not a portrait as such, but a study of costumed figures – perhaps because apple gatherers were a subject for the Slade Sketch Club in 1912 (in 1912–13 fellow student Stanley Spencer made a painting of the same theme, a work now in the Tate Gallery, London).
Text by Tracey Judd from 20th century painting and sculpture in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 19.