He reorganised his subject-matter to produce, in the 1785 versions, seemingly natural and unforced groupings which are in fact controlled by a masterly sense of design.
There are numerous differences between the 17 versions.
Some are matters of fact, though they subtly change the mood as well as the design of the pictures.
There are seven figures in both the 1785 paintings, compared with four in the 1783 ‘Haymakers’ and five in the 1783 ‘Reapers’; the additional figures both contribute to the balance of the later compositions and reinforce the rhythmic links between the labourers' actions. or steward) in the 1783 ‘Reapers’ is an elderly man mounted on a sturdy cob, his figure having the air of a drawn from life; in the 1785 picture, this figure is idealised into a younger and more handsome man mounted on a fine bay horse, and the glance he throws towards the young girl introduces a probably innocent yet distinctly perceptible hint of sexual interest into their encounter.
Both the 1785 paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1786, then shown at the second exhibition of the Society for Promoting Painting and Design, Liverpool, in 1787.
Stubbs announced his intention to of 1783 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester).
The workers are spotlessly clean despite their drudgery.
The church in the distance, and the farm manager on the horse to the right, serve as reminders of spiritual and social authority.
Alternatively, you may think that his picture robs these workers of their individuality and denies the harsh realities of work for sentimental effect.
Certainly the enamel versions (noted below) are more closely related to the 1785 than to the 1783 pictures; and since the enamels (largely unsold in Stubbs's lifetime) were given star billing in his posthumous sale, it is not surprising to see the versions in oils described as ‘studies for the enamels’.
Assuming that the 1785 pair were in Stubb's sale, they remained thereafter completely unrecorded until 1934, when they reappeared in Miss Downer's sale.
British Watercolours from the John Edward Taylor Collection in the Whitworth Art Gallery, 1973, p.8) to suggest either that Stubbs and Hearne studied the same scene, or that Stubbs borrowed from Hearne the images of the girl pausing in front of the haycart with her hayrake upright, the woman raking in hay and the man on top of the haycart.
Such borrowings by Stubbs from an exhibited picture by Hearne might partly explain why Stubbs did not choose to exhibit the 1783 versions of ‘Haymakers’ and ‘Reapers’; but in any case, Stubbs evidently realised that he could improve on the of his first versions of the subjects.