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The Reaper

Eileen Agar

The Reaper

Eileen Agar
  • Date: 1938
  • Style: Surrealism
  • Genre: figurative
  • Media: collage, gouache, mixed media

Eileen Agar often made collages and in this picture she added a leaf to a gouache. As in her painting Autobiography of an Embryo, Agar was exploring the themes of life, death, the passing of time and seasonal cycles. She uses a single, simple image to encompass a range of universal themes. Although it looks abstract, the collage shows a mechanical reaper cutting a crop on a farm, a metaphor for the end of life. She described and explained the collage in 1978:

"The leaf came from a 'dry garden', a book I have which dries and preserves leaves pressed between special paper. It was dead originally when used for the collage, but it was one I must have picked myself. The whole watercolour was intended to suggest a symbolic reaper with the flailing movement of the scythe-like concentric forms. The title indeed relates to time, the seasons and especially death the Great Reaper. The dead leaf being the hub of the whole.

Time is expressed more especially by the large black sun, which at the bottom left hand corner is sinking. The little triangle suggests a country roof and the two black spots two people riding the machine. There is also the outline of the back of a cow, with the small forelegs implanted on either side of the stem of the leaf." (Conversation of 29 July 1978, quoted in Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1976-78, p.27.

The painting is mounted on blue paper and the frame was a 'found' object painted in silver and gold. Although the artist denied that the framing had any 'special significance' she agreed that the mount and frame work with the painting to evoke secondary associations, for example the blue and gold can be linked to the sky and the sun.

The picture was first exhibited in 1965 when Marlborough Fine Art reviewed the avant-garde of the 1930s in the exhibition Art in Britain 1930-1940. (Chloe Johnson)

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