Discovering the “Goose Girl” | Aberdeen City Council

At Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums, our collections spans across 700 years and includes a range of work by local, national and international artists, designers and makers. Many pieces in our collection depict people of generations past – people that may be long gone but are captured forever in paintings, sculptures and photographs. In today’s blog, Audience Engagement Officer, Ilona Butter, shares the story of our beloved “goose girl” and how she came to be the subject of one of James Guthrie’s most iconic paintings.

To Pastures New joined our collection in 1888, shortly after the opening of the Art Gallery, and over time has become a visitor favourite. The painting features a young girl herding a gaggle of geese in the flat fenlands of Lincolnshire. Have you ever wondered who this girl might be and what happened to her?

Ian Clarke wearing navy jumper and blue jeans, stood to the right of To Pastures New by Sir James Guthrie


We were contacted by Ian Clarke (pictured in the above image), a descendant of the “goose girl”, who shared with us the story of his great grandmother and how she came to be the subject of one of Guthrie’s most iconic paintings.

Her name was Helen Anderson and she was born on February 12, 1868. She first crossed paths with Sir James Guthrie in the early 1880s on a train from Edinburgh. Sir Guthrie noticed Helen and her sister Grace getting off at Ayton, Berwickshire and asked the station master who they were. He replied “you must mean the Anderson girls.” Sir Guthrie got their address and contacted the family about sketching the children in his art. The family agreed and the children began sitting for him. The children would be served cucumber sandwiches and milk by Sir Guthrie’s mother after each sketching session.

Sir Guthrie also had plaster casts done which he used in other paintings; the hands of Helen, and the neck and shoulders of Grace. It is understood that Helen was given the working drawings of the painting.

But what happened to her? Helen married Thomas Chapman and had four daughters with him, but she sadly passed away in 1904, at age 35 from a type of anaemia. We’re not sure what happened to the original sketches, but it’s speculated that they were lost when Thomas remarried, not realising their value.

young woman standing in front of painting of a girl in a hat. Their side profiles are very similar.


Ian first visited the Art Gallery all the way from Canada back in 2013 with his children who were delighted to see their ancestor immortalised in such a well-loved painting. As you can see in the above image, Ian’s daughter has quite a likeness to his great grandmother. Can you see the resemblance?

You can see ‘To Pastures New’ by Sir James Guthrie in Gallery 1: Collecting Art at Aberdeen Art Gallery. Do you have a connection to a piece in our collection? Get in contact with us here or via social media at @AbdnArtMuseums.

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