By experimenting with the unusual technique of applying enamel to earthenware, then firing it to produce a finished ceramic plaque, George Stubbs hoped to make paintings for the ages, as durable as stone. These plaques were part of a collaboration with the master potter Josiah Wedgwood, who jokingly referred to himself as Stubbs’s “canvas maker.” This scene of wheat harvesting, which Stubbs developed in earlier oil paintings, shows his taste for orderly, relief-like composition. Reapers also gives an idealized view of agricultural labor in a period when farm workers experienced widespread poverty and hardship. The three men and one woman who cut and gather the wheat are neatly—even fashionably—dressed, and their movements are graceful and seemingly effortless. The presence of the church in the background brings to mind the Christian associations of the harvest and the old Latin proverb “laborare est orare” (to work is to pray—and vice versa).
Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2022