12. Sheep Dog Trial
29.8 x 40cm. Hardboard with home-made frame
The style of hat on the farmer can be seen in a number of his early paintings and it helps in locating this study in his development. Though a subject someone born in the country might be expected to choose, there are unusual features in this composition which might indicate that it was unfinished. His adoption of the vertical perspective principle seems to indicate that he intended to have included much more than his solitary farmer, with his few sheep. As it stands, the subject is a rather haunting and symbolic one (which, of course, he may have deliberately chosen, giving him some kind of reference point in his childhood). Being without spectators, the farmer is engaging in a challenge to pen his sheep which is private and personal. Even his judges (or Judge) are invisible. The birds in the bush seem unaware of his efforts and, if they are playing a part in his struggle at all, they are showing how nature does not notice human endeavour. The longer we view it, the more the painting becomes an allegory of life or an illustration to a parable, with the open gate behind the farmer directing our vision to another gate at the far end of the field - which, in turn, leads us to a clearing in the woodland and, finally, up to the mountain beyond. The farmer appears almost as a Bunyan pilgrim or Bosch wayfarer in being faced with a challenge which, if he is able to meet it, will open his way through the fields to the mountain haven beyond. Ivor may even have changed his approach to his subject after he had laid out the landscape but, in creating this kind of painting, he had found a new expressive possibility for his art.