A bleak, skeletal winter’s landscape, expansive fields of cabbages, a young girl at work: Sir James Guthrie’s A Hind’s Daughter incorporates all the elements of the brutality of working country life. With its meagre trees and mellow, featureless pastel sky, the piece offers a landscape that is sombre and unforgiving. Bulbous cabbages are scattered across the forefront of the scene, revealing the onerous and gruelling task of rural labour that lies ahead.
Yet the hind’s daughter, whose task we have intruded, shows no signs of relenting in the face of this undertaking. Knife and cabbage in hand, she stands as if contemptuous of our interrupting eye. Aligning her dark eyes with the horizon, Guthrie forces us to meet her gaze, which is stoic and unfaltering.
This painting does not picture its subject as part of the landscape, but in command of it. Through thick, decisive strokes of paint she is brought sharply into focus against Guthrie’s softly rendered winter landscape. A glinting knife in her hand provides a piercing contrast to soft, rotund cabbages that surround her. With a fierce countenance offset by the soft reflective light, the hind’s daughter emerges as a figure of admirable determination in the face of her arduous task.
Guthrie’s depiction of working-class labour doesn’t provoke sympathy and solemnity. Instead, A Hind’s Daughter ennobles the everyday lives of ordinary people. It exalts the dignity of working life, as its young subject refuses to submit to our pitying gaze.