Walter Heath Williams (British 1835 - 1906)

Harvest Time

signed 'W.H.Williams' (lower left)
oil on canvas
44.5 x 64.7 cm (17½ x 25½ in)

In Harvest Time, Walter Heath Williams has painted an idyllic scene of rural England. Two men are reaping the enormous field which stretches far into the distance. Williams painted a number of harvest scenes. The positive associations of this activity, with its promise of plentiful food, perfectly accords with the general optimism which Williams brought to his landscapes. On the left-hand side of the work a woman has paused on her walk and peers over the hedgerow in order to watch the workers. The path, on which she walks, skirts a shallow pool of water in the foreground, which shimmers in the sunlight and reflects the soft blue of the sky. Despite the relatively sketchy nature of the figures, Williams has taken great pleasure in carefully depicting natural features, such as the body of water, the ruts and divots of the stony path, and the foliage of the two trees looming over the woman. As the painting recedes into the rolling countryside, a seemingly endless number of similar fields stretch out. The gentle curves and angles of foreground features, such as the trees, the stooks and the windswept crops, are echoed by the gentle undulations of the extensive landscape. As the painting recedes, Williams’ palette develops from the warm greens and gold of the foreground, to cooler blues and whites, so that the hazy distance merges with the sky above.

There is a peace and tranquillity to Harvest Time that recurs throughout Williams' numerous landscapes. For example in River Landscape a single figure sits alone on the bank of the river. His isolation is only interrupted by a few sheep, which mill about beyond him. As in the present work, the anonymity of the figure again reflects Williams’ prioritisation of landscape over figures. The figures he does paint animate his landscapes but they are not the focus of the works. A number of Williams’ stylistic traits and motifs are evident in both works, an example being the dry dusty path in the left foreground, which emphasises the recession straight back into the picture, or the tall trees, which help frame this recession. Both paintings also illustrate Williams’ interest in depicting, firstly the play of light on the water, and secondly vast sunny skies, across which billowing clouds slowly drift.

Williams was a landscape painter who lived variously in Bath, Topsham and Torquay. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, the British Institute and Suffolk Street. He painted landscapes, river and coastal scenes mainly in the West Country, especially Devon and Cornwall. He was a master of capturing peaceful little spots of nature, with their hidden homesteads and winding paths, and Harvest Time is a beautiful and typical example of his work.