My Favourite Painting: Sarah Raven

'Last year (on the back of a tricky calving season), I fell in love with cows. Looking at this painting is the perfect antidote to an anxiety-filled Brexit, coronavirus world.'

Sarah Raven chooses Breton Scene by Jean Frélaut:

‘Below an apple tree, a mother goes through her daughter’s hair looking for nits, sitting on daisies and buttercups in the grass, with foxgloves in the shade behind. There’s a house cow grazing and oxen being led away, perhaps to haul in the harvest from the cornfields ripening beyond.’

‘Last year (on the back of a tricky calving season), I fell in love with cows. Looking at this painting is the perfect antidote to an anxiety-filled Brexit, coronavirus, Johnson-Cummings-uncertainty world–and much more the sort of life I want and aspire to lead.’

Sarah Raven is a gardener, cook and writer, and runs a mail-order nursery.

John McEwen on Breton Scene by Jean Frélaut:

Jean Frélaut was the son of Gen Auguste-Louis Frélaut. He was born in Grenoble, but, on his father’s retirement, the family moved to near Vannes in the general’s Breton homeland. At 18, Frélaut entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He studied under Fernand Cormon, a professor and member of the Salon best known today for the fame of van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Émile Bernard and others who came to his open studio, where sculpture and live models were generously provided and he taught once a week.

Frélaut’s pastoral proves that, inspired by the work of Bernard and the Pont-Aven-based colony of painters of a generation earlier, Breton scenes were still popular. Brittany’s rustic simplicity appealed to artists and visitors. Traditionalism, symbolised by the Breton language and, pictorially, by peasant dress as quaint as it was novel, survived there to a greater degree than elsewhere in France.

This sunny scene hangs in Sarah Raven’s home, having come into the family of her husband, Adam Nicolson, in 1920, possibly thanks to a trip made by his grandfather Harold Nicolson, with Jean Cocteau, to see the painter Jacques-Émile Blanche in Normandy.

Frélaut depicts a woman wearing a headscarf in the Breton way. The patient, gentle, nit-picking task, grazing cow and strolling man in his be-ribboned hat all conjure summer contentment.

In 1919, Frélaut was made a knight of the Legion of Honour. He was in an artists’ group with Raoul Dufy in the 1920s and, from 1937, was curator of the Vannes museum.