Art of making hay

Ernest Rigg's rural image is for sale at �3,295.
Ernest Rigg's rural image is for sale at �3,295.
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John Vincent discovers a link between a Yorkshire artist and the murdered ex-husband of Mary Queen of Scots.

IT is a scene from a bygone age...two carthorses stand patiently while a farm worker armed with a pitchfork passes hay from the laden cart to a straw-hatted man on the stack.

The canvas is the work of Bradford-born Ernest Higgins Rigg (1868-1947) and is of the nostalgic variety the art world turned its back on for many decades.

Now, however, quality paintings reflecting an image of rural Britain which disappeared in the middle of the last century are back in vogue... and the 12ins by 16ins Loading Hay is priced at £3,295 when offered by North east dealers John Nicholson and Dunelm Fine Art at a showpiece antiques fair near Morpeth in Northumberland next weekend.

Ernest Rigg was one of five brothers (two of whom, Arthur and Albert, were also talented artists) and a sister born to John and Mary Rigg. His mother was the daughter of John Higgins, tobacco manufacturer of the Virginia Mills at Thornbury, Bradford, and his wife Emma, nee Darnley, a descendant of the ancient Darnleys, whose most famous member was the hapless Henry, Lord Darnley, who became the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots in 1565.

They had a son (the future James VI and I) but the marriage proved a disaster. Darnley’s participation in the plot to murder the queen’s Italian secretary, David Rizzio, finally estranged him from her and he was himself murdered in Edinburgh in 1567 when Kirk O’Field, the house in which he was sleeping, was blown up at the instigation of his wife’s new suitor, the Earl of Bothwell, who subsequently married the queen.

But I digress... Ernest Rigg studied at Bradford School of Art and and then at the Academie Julian in Paris. In 1896 he visited Staithes and became a member of the area’s famous art group, lodging at Quaker’s Garth in the village of Hinderwell and later in the town’s Commercial Hotel.

After establishing himself as an artist of note he moved to Sussex in 1908 but returned to Yorkshire after the First World War, living first in Shipley and then Richmond. Specialising in landscape, coastal and genre scenes, sometimes veering towards sentimentality, his work was exhibited frequently throughout the North and at the Royal Academy in London.

Loading Hay is on show at the three-day Luxury Antiques Weekend at Linden Hall, Longhorsley, near Morpeth, from Friday March 7 to 9, where furniture includes a lady’s oak Orkney chair, made from oak straw and bent grass and originally developed to provide shelter from the cold draught in an Orkney croft. It is on at £875.

Another unusual piece is an exceptional Victorian coromandel jewellery or dressing box, commissioned by the Earl of Hardwicke in 1869. The upper sections contain crystal jars and bottles, manicure tools, pens and pencils, silver spoon and pen knife and bottom of the box has a locking drawer fitted out with red velvet to hold rings and jewellery. It bears a price tag of £5,250.