Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 3.

Although returning to live in Newlyn was tempting Thomas decided on another course of action and took his wife on the long voyage to Australia on the fully rigged sailing passenger clipper, Torrens., leaving England on October 30th 1883.  Their daughter Phyllis remained in Kettering with her grandparents.   Thomas and Caroline arrived in Port Adelaide on January 8th 1884 where they transferred to the SS South Australia and sailed to Melbourne where they were met by John Speechley Gotch, a wealthy distant relative who had met Tom when he visited England in 1874.  John Gotch was an art lover and he arranged for Thomas and Carrie to hold a joint exhibition of their work which they had brought with them, at Melbourne’s Fletcher’s Art Gallery in February 1884. 

Mental arithmetic
Mental Arithmetic by Thomas Gotch

The most important painting exhibited by Thomas Gotch was one entitled Mental Arithmetic.  It depicts an elderly bearded fisherman sitting holding a knife and plate of food being watched by a small girl.  It is thought that Thomas painted this in November 1883 from sketches he made that summer in Newlyn.  Melbourne City Gallery wanted to buy the painting but baulked at the £200 selling price.  However, John Gotch bought it and donated it to the gallery.  Many of John Goth’s paintings and sketches were sold as well as work by his wife Carrie and the couple made more than enough money to pay for their sea passages.

Qua-Qua, south of Johannesburg
Qua-Qua , South of Johannesburg by Thomas Gotch

Tom and Carrie returned to England on the Torrens calling at Cape Town, St Helena and the Ascension Island for the vessel to replenish supplies.  They eventually returned to London on July 3rd 1884.  The couple left the English capital and journeyed to the West Country looking for suitable accommodation.  They tried Brixham and Looe but finally settled on the Cornish town of Polperro where they lodged at the Louriet Hotel and were soon joined by their ten-month-old daughter and her nurse.

Child Enthroned by Thomas Gotch

Children featured in many of Gotch’s paintings.  Probably the best known is his 1894 work entitled Child Enthroned.  Like many other depictions of the young there is a mystical element about the portrayal of the young girl.   His eleven-year-old daughter Phyllis was the model for The Child Enthroned.  Her father’s Madonna like depiction was, he said, down to his time spent in Italy in the summer of 1891.  The painting is testament to Gotch’s ability as a portrait painter, especially his love of child portraiture and his competency in depicting fine detail in ornate fabrics.  The painting when exhibited to the public that year at the Royal Academy was rapturously received and established Gotch’s reputation as an artist.

Alleluia by Thomas Gotch

Another painting featuring Gotch’s daughter was his 1896 work entitled Alleluia. It was a major demonstration of his Pre-Raphaelite style.  Along the top of the painting, we see inscribed in Gothic lettering on a background of gold leaf, a Latin quotation which reads:

“…Sancti tui domine benedicent te gloriam regni tui dicent – Alleluya…”

 The inscription is taken from Psalm xlvii: 6 and 7, which was printed in the catalogue of the 1896 Royal Academy exhibition:

“…Sing praises to God, sing praises: Sing praises unto our King, Sing praises, For God is King of all the earth: Sing praises with understanding…”

It is a painting featuring thirteen richly clad children singing against a gilded background and his thirteen-year-old daughter is at the centre rear of the group with her hands clasped in prayer.  In front of her is a small figure with amber curls.  This is her cousin Hester Gotch.  When it was first shown at a local exhibition in Newlyn it was criticised by the local press because they believed Gotch had broken with the Newlyn tradition of painting.  The art critic of the Cornish Telegraph quipped that he doubted whether the time it took to complete (nine months) was worth the effort.   The art critic of the local weekly newspaper, West Briton, criticised the work saying:

“…It would be easy enough to say outright that we don’t like the thing and have done with it.  It is not possible to take ordinary children of today and pictorially attempt to transform them into choiring cherubim, without coming within consciousness of incongruity…”

Fortunately for Gotch when he submitted the work to that year’s Royal Academy exhibition the receiving jury accepted the painting had it hung at the most advantageous position, (hung on line). The work of art, which is part of the Tate Britain collection, was bought for the Nation under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest, following its exhibition at the Royal Academy.  The Chantrey Bequest, set out in the will of sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey, was of primary importance to the foundation and development of a national collection of British art at the Tate Gallery and it constituted the gallery’s main purchasing fund from its opening in 1897 until 1946.

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A Pageant of Childhood by Thomas Gotch (1899)

Another of Gotch’s paintings featuring a group of children was completed in 1899. It was entitled A Pageant of Childhood.  It depicts a procession of nine children of varying age, the eldest at the rear and the youngest at the front crossing a tiled hall in front of a fresco of Father Time, who we are aware will, in due course, carry off even the youngest of the children.  It is a colourful depiction of children enacting an historic pageant.  Some like the two boys at the centre play long horns whilst behind them are two girls, one with a drum and one with a set of symbols.  Take a look at the various children.  Some, with thoughtful expressions, are taking the enactment very seriously whilst others appear light-hearted and, in some respect, they personify children of different ages at play, a representation of the stages of life.  It was Gotch’s own evocation of innocence and youth.  The painting was completed just before the family left Newlyn and exhibited at the Newlyn Gallery in March 1899.  It was shown at the 1899 Royal Academy exhibition and appeared at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, after which the Liverpool Corporation purchased the work and is part of the Walker Art Gallery collection.  This painting was completed close to the time that the Gotchs moved to a new house and went to live in Shottermill.

Postcard advertising auction of ‘Penwith’, Shottermill in 1906

Thomas Gotch’s House Penwith on sale in 1907

Thomas Gotch had decided to relocate his family to Shottermill close to the town of Haselmere, West Sussex, forty miles south west of London and twenty-five miles from the south coast of England.  At the end of 1898 Thomas started building his new home, named Penwith and the family were able to move in in October 1899.  Penwith was situated on a hillside at the end of a long twisting drive, which rose above the ponds of Shottermill.  It was a large six-bedroom residence with two drawing rooms, a large kitchen and two purpose-built studios.

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The Dawn of Womanhood by Thomas Gotch (1900)

In 1900 Thomas Gotch’s main work was entitled The Dawn of Womanhood which appeared at the 1900 Royal Academy Exhibition.  The painting depicts the child enthroned being confronted by the vision of approaching motherhood.  The phantom figure on the left represents Womanhood.  She is dressed in opalescent drapery of pale blue, gold and silvery primrose.  She is wearing a mask, as legend has it that all who are no longer children must conceal themselves which probably harks back to the story of Eve, who after eating the forbidden fruit was ashamed of her nakedness and sought to conceal it.  Sitting on the steps of the throne, to the right, is the familiar winged sprite representing the spirit of childhood, who is aware of the strange presence and makes ready to take flight for ever from the girl on the throne.

The Exile
The Exile: Heavy is the Price I Paid for Love by Thomas Gotch (c.1930)

Painted around that time, in 1930 — a year before Thomas Cooper Gotch’s death — The Exile is shrouded in mystery. As of now, we know nothing about the identity of the sitter or about the suggestive, tantalizing title of her portrait.

Thomas Gotch exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1880-1931, in all showing seventy of his paintings. He was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1885 and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour in 1912. He was a founder member of the New English Art Club in 1886 and served as President of the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists between 1913 and 1928.   Gotch was fêted at the Salon and won medals in Chicago and Berlin.

Thomas Cooper Gotch died aged seventy-six of a heart attack while in London for an exhibition on May 1st, 1931.  He was buried in Sancreed churchyard in Cornwall.   Also in the graveyard of St Sancredus are buried fellow Newlyn School artists, Stanhope Forbes and Elizabeth Forbes.

Thomas Gotch’s wife, Caroline, died on December 14th, 1945 aged 91 and their only child, Phyllis Marian Gotch became Marquise de Verdières when she married André Marie, Marquis de Verdières in 1922. She died in Hong Kong on April 24th, 1963 aged 81.   She is buried with her parents in Cornwall’s Sancreed Churchyard.

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 2.

Thomas Cooper Gotch

Sometime in 1878 their reading group, set up by Thomas Gotch, had a new member.  Her name was Caroline Burland Yates.  Caroline was one of three sisters born to Esther Burland and wealthy property owner, Edward Yates. The family was from the Liverpool area, later moving to Sway in Hampshire. Caroline was the youngest of the three daughters and educated by a governess.  Caroline attended finishing school in Switzerland where she became fluent in French.  She, like Thomas Gotch, had studied at the Heatherley School before arriving at the Slade.

A Golden Dream
A Golden Dream by Thomas Gotch

Thomas’ progress at the Slade was outstanding and he was the firm favourite of his principal lecturer, Alphonse Legros, the French-born painter who later took British citizenship.  During his first year at the Slade, Gotch produced many paintings and sketches which were sold at exhibitions in London.  One of Thomas Gotch’s closest friends at the Slade was fellow artistic aspirant, Henry Tuke. Through his friendship with Henry Tuke Thomas met other members of the Tuke family and became friendly with his sister Maria Tuke and medical student brother William Tuke.  Thomas was asked by William, and some of his fellow medics, to help form a group of art and medical students which would become a friendly debating society.  Thomas, who was extremely popular with the female students at Slade, and so, was asked to entice some “beautiful but well educated” young women into joining the society. 

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The Misses Santley by Henry Tuke

Many agreed to join, two of whom were the Santley sisters, Edith and Gertrude as well as Carrie Yates.  Thomas Gotch’s close friend, Henry Tuke, depicted these three in his famous work entitled The Misses Santley which was shown at the Royal Academy.  It shows the influence of Henry Tuke’s Slade professor, Alphonse Legros who encouraged his students to study the works of the Old Masters.  Frederic Leighton, then president of the Royal Academy, is reported to have said: “Can it be an old master? It could not be by a young man.”    The work depicts three women who were all fellow students of Thomas Gotch and Henry Tuke at the Slade.  The young woman on the right, holding a music score, is Edith Santley, the daughter of the famous baritone Charles Santley.  Next to her is her sister Gertrude, and in front left of the painting stands Carrie Yates, who would later marry Thomas Gotch.

Cornfields above Lamorna
Cornfields above Lamorna by Thomas Gotch

During the summer of 1879 Thomas Gotch and Harry Tuke went on a painting trip to Cornwall, visiting Penzance and Newlyn, where they were joined by Caroline Yates and her sister Esther.  The following summer Thomas Gotch and his sister Jessie spent part of the summer in the small North Wales coastal town of Beaumaris on the isle of Anglesey meeting up with Willie and Maria Tuke.  In October 1880 Thomas Gotch left England and arrived in Paris where he lodged at the Hotel d’Angleterre for a month whilst he negotiated his entrance to John Paul Laurens’ atelier.  In the meantime, in fact a month earlier, Carrie Yates along with two fellow art students, Jane Ross and Alma Broadridge had travelled to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian. 

Hilda and Margaret, daughters of Professor sir Edward Poulton
Hilda and Margaret, daughters of Professor Sir Edward Poulton by Thomas Gotch

Thomas Gotch was influenced by the historical works of Laurens as he was interested in figurative painting.  His other overwhelming interest was also Carrie Yates.  They had become remarkably close and she was teaching him French.  She was lodging at the Hotel de Paris and Thomas had an apartment on the top floor of a building at 17 rue de Tournon. Although it was a Bohemian establishment, the rooms were spacious.   Thomas and Carrie visited the artists’ colony at Barbizon.  The relationship between the two became ever stronger and before he returned to London to submit a painting for the Academy exhibition, he proposed marriage.

Death the Bride by Thomas Gotch (1912)

Thomas and Carrie travelled back to England in July 1881 and visited each other’s families to get the parental permission to marry.  Carrie had spent the summers of 1879 and 1880 in Newlyn and loved the place.  The couple decided that Newlyn in Cornwall should be the setting for their marriage and so they both travelled there and secured separate lodgings.  Twenty-six-year-old Thomas Cooper Gotch and twenty-seven-year-old Caroline Burland Yates married on August 31st 1881 at St. Peter’s church which was built in 1866 and nestles underneath Tol Carn, the ancient pile of rocks associated in Cornish legend with Bucca-boo, a male sea-spirit in Cornish folklore, a merman that inhabited mines and coastal communities as a hobgoblin during storms and who was said to steal the nets of fishermen.

A Cottage Interior, Newlyn
A Cottage Interior, Newlyn by Thomas Gotch

The newlyweds honeymooned at Mullion, a quiet village on the Lizard Peninsula in south Cornwall.  Once the honeymoon was over Carrie returned to London.  Prior to her wedding she had been sharing a house with her sister, Esther (Ess) and now she needed to take back to Newlyn her share of the furniture.  Meanwhile Thomas Gotch had begun painting scenes of Newlyn and became friends with three Birmingham painters, Walter Langley, Edwin Harris and William Wainwright.   Thomas Gotch and his depictions of Cornish life thrived and maybe it was marriage that buoyed his love of the area.

Portrait of Madame G by Thomas Gotch

In October 1881, Caroline and Thomas returned to Paris.  Thomas returned to the Laurens atelier and Carrie went back to Académie Julian where there was a separate atelier for women.  Thomas also engineered the acceptance at the Laurens atelier of his friend Harry Tuke.  That Christmas was spent in Paris but the couple returned to England in time for Easter 1882.   During that three-month period Thomas Gotch worked on a portrait of his wife, entitled Portrait of Madame G, which he presented and was accepted at the April 1st 1872 Salon.  This life-sized portrait of his wife depicts her dressed in a dark navy dress with gold and white cuffs and collar.   Thomas never put the painting up for sale and it adorned the walls of the houses they resided in.

Evening by Thomas Gotch

One of the reasons the couple returned to England that April was for Carrie to consult her doctor and have it confirmed that she was pregnant with her first child and to break the good news to their family members.  Their visit to England was only short but gave them time to employ a nurse for when the new baby arrived.  They all returned to France and rented a small property at Marchand de Bois, Brolles which was owned by a wood merchant.  It was a good-sized house for the young couple and access to half of a large garden.  Brolles was an idyllic spot situated in a very rural area and the nearby landscapes coupled with the fine summer weather allowed them to paint en plein air.  The young couple had domestic help with a young French maid, Marie, and Windsor, the English nurse who looked after Caroline during her pregnancy.

Phillis Marian Gotch was born in Brolles on September 6th 1882.  It is thought the name “Phyllis” came from the fact that Thomas’ first painting to be exhibited at the Royal Academy was entitled Phillis and the name “Marian” derived from a character of that name (a pseudonym for his wife), who was a character in his fictionalised novel A Long Engagement.

In late September Thomas and Carrie had to quickly return to England with nurse Windsor as she had told them that she could no longer put up with life in France and they needed to replace her.  They left Brolles leaving the maid Marie in charge of the house.  Their stay in London had to be quickly curtailed when Thomas and Carrie received a letter from their French landlord telling them that Marie and her friends were leading a riotous lifestyle in their house during their absence !

Winter Sketch, Provence, France
Winter Sketch, Provence, France by Thomas Gotch

Although the quiet picturesque landscape around the village of Brolles offered Thomas Gotch the ideal vistas for his paintings there was a problem in finding suitable models from within the village and eventually he and Carrie decided they must give up their rural idyll and return to the French capital where it would be easier to find models for his paintings.  So, in February 1883 the couple were once again living in Paris, Thomas returned to the Laurens atelier and Caroline to the Académie Julian.

Looe
Looe by Thomas Gotch

Life in France ended for Thomas and Carrie when she became ill with a serious lung infection.  The couple and their daughter returned to England where they received a second opinion from a London specialist.  He confirmed the diagnosis and Carrie was told she had to rest.   Their daughter Phillis was taken to Thomas’ parents who began to look after her along with the re-hiring of their first nanny, Windsor.  Thomas took Carrie to Newlyn that summer to give her a chance to recuperate whilst he continued to paint depictions of the Cornish fishing village.  Carrie’s breathing problems slowly lessened, probably due to the clean and fresh sea air of the Cornish coast and soon she was able to walk freely.  By the end of the summer Carrie had recovered her health and the couple returned to London where the specialist gave her a clean bill of health.

…………………………………to be continued.

The Moonlight Pethers

Today I am looking at a family of artists who specialised in painting moonlight scenes, so much so they were known as the Moonlight Pethers.  This is a story about Abraham Pether and his two sons Henry and Sebastian who lived and worked in Southampton, England in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.

Abraham Pether, the patriarch, was a landscape painter who was born at Chichester in 1756. He was the cousin of the notable engraver, William Pether. He could have been a professional musician as at the tender age of nine, he showed a great talent for music, and played the organ in one of the Chichester churches. However, his main love became art and he received artistic training from George Smith, an English landscape painter and poet.  Within a short period of time the talent of the pupil matched that of his master.

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A moonlit view of the River Tweed with Melrose Abbey in the foreground and figures on a bridge by Abraham Pether

Abraham painted river and mountain scenery, incorporating classical buildings, in an attractive though artificial style.  Some compared his work with the great Welsh landscape painter Richard Wilson.  However, Abraham Pether will be remembered for his moonlight subjects which warranted him the moniker, ‘Moonlight’ Pether.

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Moonlight Scene by Abraham Pether (c.1790)

His moonlight pieces are notable for their astronomical accuracy. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784, his subject being “Moonlight.”

Moonlight Scene with Windmill by Abraham Pether (c.1780)

Moonlight Scene with Windmill by Abraham Pether (c.1780)

The Night Blowing Cereus (flower painted by Philip Reinagle, (moonlit background by Abraham Pether)

Abraham also collaborated with other painters who needed a moonlight background to their painting.  One example of this is his collaboration with Philip Reinagle RA, an English painter of animals, landscapes, and botanical scenes. Reinagle’s painting was entitled The Night Blowing Cereus and Abraham’s moonlight background added authenticity to the work.

God’s House Tower by Moonlight by Abraham Pether

Close to Abraham’s birthplace, Chichester, is the city of Southampton.  One of Abraham Pether’s paintings featured a night scene featuring the 13th century God’s House Tower, a gatehouse, which leads into the old town.  It stands at the south-east corner of the town walls and permitted access to the town from the Platform and Town Quay. It is now an arts and heritage venue.  In its former days it had served as the town gaol and housed the Museum of Archaeology. The building is Grade I listed and a scheduled ancient monument.  The buildings which form modern-day God’s House Tower are some of the earliest in Southampton. The name God’s House comes from the nearby hospice and it was built around 1189 as a resting place for travellers and pilgrims en-route to Canterbury.  The original gate was built around 1280, to give access to the Platform Quay as well as to the walls on the east at a high level, useful for any patrols or at times of attack. Running along the eastern walls was a double ditched moat, up to 40 feet wide, which was fed by sea water operated by a sluice at the Platform Quay. The ditches were important not only for defence but also because they also provided water-power for one of the town’s main mills which was built adjacent to God’s House Tower.

A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting  by Abraham Pether

A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting by Abraham Pether (c.1810)

 Abraham Pether also liked to paint depictions in which not only moonlight but fire lighted up the sky as can be seen in his painting entitled A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting.

The fire at the Old Drury Lane Theatre, seen from Pimlico by Abraham Pether (1809)

It was not just fire lighting up the sky by natural phenomena, that Abraham captured in some of his works of art but also devastating events of buildings burning such as his painting entitled The Fire at the Old Drury Lane Theatre seen from Pimlico. In this 1809 painting we witness the destruction of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Drury Lane Theatre in 1809, which Sheridan had completely rebuilt in 1794 with the architect Henry Holland.  It is said that when Sheridan, who was in the Houses of Parliament at the time when the fire broke out, heard the news, he hurried to his theatre. Upon realising that there was little he could do to help, he sat down in the coffeehouse opposite and ordered a bottle of port, remarking rather dryly ‘a man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside’.   It is a work of Romanticism which was popular around the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Abraham has cleverly balanced the light sources emanating from the moon and the fire, which adds a sense of excitement to the depiction.  Another interesting fact about this depiction is that it actually shows a lost view of London as the river seen is not the Thames, but part of the River Tyburn, which now flows beneath the city, coming out into the Thames at Whitehall Stairs, near Downing Street.

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Evening Scene With Full Moon and Persons by Abraham Pether (1801)

Abraham Pether not only distinguished himself as painter and musician but also by his philosophical and mathematical research which were of great value. He also showed skill as a mechanic, and constructed various optical instruments, such as telescopes, microscopes, air-pumps, and electric instruments. Abraham Pether died in Southampton on April 13th, 1812.

Abraham had two artistically talented sons Sebastian Pether who was born in 1790 and Henry Pether who was born on March 5th, 1800, both of whom became landscape artists who, like their father, became known for their moonlit scenes.

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Houses of Parliament from the Thames by Moonlight by Henry Pether (c.1864)

In Henry Pether‘s painting, Houses of Parliament from the Thames by Moonlight we see Westminster Bridge straddling the River Thames with the Houses of Parliament on the right bank. By the mid-19th century Westminster Bridge was subsiding badly and expensive to maintain and so was replaced by the current bridge, which was designed by Thomas Page and opened on 24 May 1862.  As Henry Pether died in 1865, we know the painting had to be completed sometime between those three years.  It is a fascinating depiction of the endless work on the river even during the night with barges and rowing boats plying their trade.  Note the gaslights illuminating the bridge.  During these years air pollution was very bad, day and night, and this is depicted by the smoky and murky appearance.

View of Windsor Castle looking at the Lowe Ward by Moonlight by Henry Pether

Henry Pether’s work, View of Windsor Castle looking at the Lowe Ward by Moonlight, demonstrates how Henry Pether’s portrayal of the romantic quality of light makes his depiction so striking. Henry preferred actual scenes, often on the Thames or in Venice, and this painting communicates the poetry and realism of his best work. As ever, Henry’s palette was more sensitive and truthful to nature than that used by his father and brother, as this very fine example demonstrates.

Henry Pether, ‘Greenwich Reach, Moonlight’ exhibited 1854
Greenwich Reach, Moonlight by Henry Pether (c.1854)

Henry Pether’s works were not all about England as he completed and excellent depiction of the canals of Venice.

Venice by Moonlight
Venice by Moonlight by Henry Pether

Sebastian Pether, born in 1790, was the eldest son of Abraham Pether, was also a landscape painter. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1812 to 1826 and at the Royal Society of British Artists at Suffolk Street, London.  He had learnt his artistic ability as a pupil of his father, and, like him, primarily painted moonlight views as well as depictions of fires as seen at night.  His paintings were praised for their accuracy and congruency of colour.   He could have made a fortune from the sales of his work but being desperate for money to feed his family he was having to accept paltry sums from art dealers who knew of his desperate financial circumstances and wanted his work so as they may be copied and sold on. 

Fishing by Moonlight by Sebastian Pether

One of Sebastian’s beautiful painting is his Fishing by Moonlight.  The work is painted on panel, which is a medium best suited to the fine brushwork quality, which he found necessary for this intricate work. In this painting, he has cleverly used the strong use of chiaroscuro effects of light and shade in his painting. The eye, of course, is drawn towards the full moon, which illuminates the sky and caresses the clouds.  Look how the artist has created the mysterious atmosphere of the moonlit evening. He has depicted the moonlight glistening on the river below and has painstakingly depicted the buildings in meticulous detail.  On the bank in the foreground we see the two night fishermen silhouetted against the calm waters.

Artwork by Sebastian Pether, Anglers along a moonlit river, Made of oil on canvas laid down on panel
An extensive river landscape with a fisherman by the shore, before a tower by Sebastian Pether

Sebastian married very young. In the July 1884 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine there was an obituary notice regarding the death of Sebastian Pether. It said that “he married too young and too poor“. To exacerbate matters his wife had nine children in a short period and Sebastian struggled to earn enough money from his art to feed his family. The art dealers who bought his paintings were aware of his dire financial situation and the obituary notice was very cutting about their role in Sebastian’s life:

“…As a matter of course he soon fell into the hands of those harpies – the dealers. When once they had obtained power over him they took care to retain it; he was their victim all through life…”

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The Night Fishermen by Sebastian Pether (1920)

Sebastian Pether’s paintings always sold well but because of the low prices offered to him by dealers the money from the sale of his work was never enough to satisfy the wants of his large family.  Sebastian became ill in March 1844.  The illness was brief but severe and he died on March 14th 1844, aged 54.  His life at the end was an unhappy one and this was set out in the Gentleman’s Magazine obituary:

…During the three last years of his life he lost three of his grown-up children by consumption; and since the demise of the father another son died at Westminster Hospital of lockjaw occasioned by an accident to the hand……………………..A subscription has been opened to help his surviving family out of their terrible state of distress…”

A truly sad ending to a great painter.

Harold Harvey

Harold Harvey

Harold Harvey (1874 – 1941)

My featured artist today is one of the famous Newlyn School painters. The term Newlyn school applies to a group of artists who settled in Newlyn and St Ives in the late nineteenth century and whose work is characterised by an impressionistic style and embodies subject matter drawn from scenes of rural life.   It was founded by a group of artists led by Stanhope Forbes. who came to Newlyn in West Cornwall in 1884 and was immediately captivated by the scenery and people in the area. The ‘Newlyn School’ became famous for its superb realism, in ‘Plein-Air‘ painting.  The artist I am looking at today, Harold Harvey, made his name for his beautiful works featuring the Cornish countryside.

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The Old Slip, Newlyn by Harold Harvey

Harold Charles Francis Harvey was born on May 20th 1874 in North Parade, Penzance, Cornwall.  He was the eldest of eight children of Francis McFarland Harvey, a bank clerk, and Mary Bellringer whom he married in September 1872. Harold had six brothers, Percival George Harvey; Frank Harvey; Arthur William H Harvey; Wilfrid Vignes Harvey; Leonard Harvey, and Cyril Harvey along with one sister, Gladys Maud Harvey.  Harvey trained in painting at the Penzance Art School under the tutelage of Norman Garstin, an Irish artist, teacher, art critic and journalist associated with the Newlyn School of painters. After leaving the Penzance Art School at the age of nineteen, William travelled to France and attended the Académie Julian in Paris between 1894 and 1896.

Harold Harvey - Unloading the boats, Newlyn Harbour.jpg

Unloading the boats, Newlyn Harbour by Harold Harvey (1906)

In the early part of the twentieth century, Harold Harvey’s paintings were impressionistic in style and the depictions focused on people involved in the agricultural and fishing trade. 

In the Whiting Ground’ by Harold Harvey

In the Whiting Ground by Harold Harvey (c.1900)

One such work was In the Whiting Ground which he completed around 1900 and depicts a small dinghy at sea with a young man standing holding a fishing line in his hands while an older man is holding a line in the water.  St Michael’s Mount the tidal island in Mount’s Bay, a large, sweeping bay on the English Channel coast of Cornwall, can be seen in the far distance.

Whiffing in Mount's Bay

Whiffing in St Mount’s Bay by Harold Harvey (c.1900)

A small painting completed around the same time by Harvey featuring three young men in a boat had the strange title of Whiffing in St Mount’s Bay.  Whiffing is a mode of fishing with a hand line.

The Seaweed Gatherers by Harold Harvey

The Seaweed Gatherers by Harold Harvey

Another of his paintings depicting life along the Cornish shoreline was one entitled The Seaweed Gatherers in which we see two men hauling a horse and cart laden with fresh seaweed.

The Close of a Summers Day by Harold Harvey. (1909)

The Close of a Summers Day by Harold Harvey (1909)

A more colourful painting is his beautiful work of idyllic tranquillity entitled The Close of a Summers Day which he completed in 1909.  It is at the end of a hot summers day and man and beast have need of a rest and refreshment.  The young farmworkers have been tasked with taking the horses down to the river for them to cool down and have a drink.  The white horse gently splashes in the water attempting to cool down its fetlocks.

From 1909 to 1913, Harvey was an Associate of the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art, Conwy and, in 1910, he became a member of the South Wales Art Society.

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Gertrude Harvey by Harold Harvey

It was around this time that Harold Harvey met Gertrude Bodinnar.  She was born in 1879 and was the eighth of the ten children born to Ann Crews Bodinnar, (née Curnow), and her husband John Matthews Bodinnar, a cooper.  In her twenties, she acted as a model for students at the Forbes School of Painting, which had been founded in 1899 by Stanhope Forbes and his Canadian-born wife Elizabeth as their School of Painting and Drawing at Newlyn. It was indirectly through her work with students at this establishment that she first met Harold Harvey and agreed to act as his model.  Love blossomed and Harold and Gertrude married on April 19th 1911 and the couple set up home at Maen Cottage Elms Close Terrace, in Newlyn

Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Gertrude by Harold Harvey (1917)

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Gertrude by Harold Harvey (1917)

Gertrude appeared in a number of her husband’s paintings.  One example was his 1917 portrait of her entitled Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Gertrude……

Gertrude Harvey with Parrot in the Artist's Home by Harold Harvey

….and Gertrude Harvey with Parrot in the Artist’s Home……

The Red Silk Shawl by Harold Harvey (1932)…..and The Red Silk Shawl in 1932.

Being around artists, including her husband, and watching them work fascinated her. She would often note down how the artists worked, and she soon realised that she had a talent for art and design.  Gertrude used mostly oil on canvas, board, card, or paper, but also tempera, gouache and though largely self-taught she became a talented artist in her own right, and her paintings were mainly of still-lifes, flowers and landscapes. 

Landscape

Landscape by Gertrude Harvey

Her paintings were good enough to be sold and exhibited at the Newlyn Art Gallery and in the twenties and thirties her work could be seen in many London galleries including the Leicester Gallery and the Royal Academy. Often, she showed work together with her husband in mixed and group shows.   Between 1930 and 1949, Gertrude Harvey had twenty works selected for Royal Academy exhibitions and from 1945 to 1949 she was regular exhibitor with the St Ives Society of Artists.  She was also proficient at needlework and clothing design.

Reflections by Harold Harvey (1916)

Reflections by Harold Harvey (1916)

Meanwhile Harold Harvey continued painting and exhibiting his work. The First World War began in 1914 but due to health issues, he was exempted from military service.  In that year, he started to paint a series of interiors often using his own home.  One such painting was his 1916 work entitled Reflections.

The Critics by Harold Harvey

The Critics by Harold Harvey

In another work entitled The Critics, we see three women enjoying coffee and an aperitif as they study some paintings, weighing up the merits of each one.

The Tea Table by Harold Harvey

The Tea Table by Harold Harvey (1920)

A depiction of domestic living can be best seen in Harold Harvey’s 1920 painting entitled The Tea Table.  It is a masterful depiction of a small dining room filled with shelves of crockery and ornaments.  It could almost be termed a still-life of household goods.

Girl on a Cliff by Harold Harvey (1926)

Girl on a Cliff by Harold Harvey (1926)

With such wonderful landscapes on his doorstep, it is no wonder that Harvey continued with his outdoor works featuring young models.  One example of this is his 1926 painting entitled Girl on a Cliff.  In a way, this is not a true plein air painting as the girl in the depiction is fourteen-year-old Cressida Wearne and Harvey painted her posing in the garden of his studio and he added the background at a later date.

Clara

Clara by Harold Harvey (1922)

Again, we see this technique with his 1922 painting, Clara.  It is a full-length portrait of a girl standing by a wall set in a rolling landscape.  She is seen holding a rose and in several of Harvey’s portraits his female sitters are holding a single flower. The work is composed mainly of tones of grey and brown but it is the red of the rosebud which creates the focal point of the work.

Harvey, Harold C., 1874-1941; James Jewill Hill Junior

Portrait of James Jewill Hill by Harold Harvey (1920

Harold Harvey completed a number of portrait commissions, such as his 1920 portrait of the youngest son of James Jewill Hill, a partner in the solicitors firm Jewill Hill & Bennett, Penzance.

Harvey, Harold C., 1874-1941; John Humphreys (1850-1937), Professor of Dentistry
Portrait of John Humphreys, Professor of Dentistry; University of Birmingham; by Harold Harvey (1938)

 

Another portrait he completed was a 1938 commission to paint a portrait of John Humphreys, Professor of Dentistry.

In 1920, Harold Harvey and fellow Newlyn School artist, Ernest Procter, founded the School of Painting, in Newlyn, called the Harvey-Procter School, which ran throughout most of the 1920s. 

Harold Harvey died in Newlyn on 19 May 1941 and was buried in Penzance at the St Clare Cemetery. His wife, Gertrude, lived in their cottage until 1960 when she moved into the Benoni Nursing Home in St Just. She died six years late, aged 86.

 

Ralph Hedley. Part 2.

                                       In School by Ralph Hedley (1883)

Another of Hedley’s paintings projecting school life was his 1883 work, In School.  The boy in the painting was John Irwin, the younger brother of Tom Irwin, who worked at Ralph Hedley’s woodcarving shop.

                         The Ballad Seller, the Black Gate by Ralph Hedley (1884)

Hedley used Irwin in a number of his painting. one of which was his 1884 work known as The Ballad Seller.  The setting is the Black Gate in Newcastle with Castle Garth in the background.  The red roofs of Castle Garth can be seen behind the Black Gate in Ralph Hedley’s depiction. The Black Gate formed the entrance to the street, which had been built inside the castle walls. There was only a short stretch of street left standing by the time Hedley painted this picture. It has now all been demolished, though the outline of the street can still be seen.  It is thought that Hedley made many plein air sketches for the background.  In the painting we can see the rough wooden fence that had been put up around the Black Gate in 1883 by the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries during the renovation work.  Hedley’s painting depicts broken and missing stones as well as damaged window glass.  The Black Gate of the Norman castle, which was completed at the end of the thirteenth century, had become run down.  However, the painting is all about the trade of selling ballads.  Ballad sellers were looked upon in the eighteenth century as impoverished, uneducated, and morally-lacking people who were allegedly conspiring with pickpockets.  It was suspected that whilst plying their trade, they hoped to distract their audience with their songs while the pickpockets went to work.  Later, they would share their ill-gotten gains.  Ralph Hedley would have witnessed poor women street sellers having to take their children with them, like the baby in the ballad-seller’s arms in this picture.  John Irwin was once again used as a model for one of the boys.

                             Shoeing a refractory horse (Shoeing the Bay Mare) by Ralph Hedley (1883)

Older brother Tom Irwin was himself the model for one of the men in Hedley’s 1885 painting Shoeing a refractory horse in the stocks – Shoeing the bay mare.  He was the man standing on the right wearing the brown cap, velvet jacket and velvet trousers.  He was seventeen years of age when he modelled for the work.  Tom Irwin, who worked at Ralph Hedley’s woodcarving workshop, and his family arrived in Newcastle around 1880.  He remembered the first meeting with Hedley and how the artist had admired their clothes:

“… When we came from the country where we had been farming, we brought several quaint articles of clothing, caps, clogs, baskets etc, which proved invaluable to your father’ work, and… which we know were much appreciated by him… “

                                    Going Home by Ralph Hedley (1888)

Ralph Hedley believed that art should be a pictorial record of the working lives of local people, and his paintings were particularly valuable for the record they provide of everyday life on Tyneside in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  His 1888 painting, Going Home, is a depiction of two coal miners returning home from working at the pit at Blaydon, near Gateshead. The younger of the two men wears a cap to protect his head from the low beams, and he wears a pair of shorts because of the heat in the mine. In his hand is a safety lamp and a sack to kneel on. This was an extremely popular painting and a print of it was made the following year which proved extremely popular with the public.

                                                   Go, and God’s will be done! by Ralph Hedley (1891)

One of Ralph Hedley’s 1891 paintings, Go, and God’s Will be Done, fascinates me as there is a story behind the depiction.  At first glance there is obviously something dramatic happening in this painting, but what is it all about?  On the floor in the left foreground a cat sleeps peacefully before the fire, unaware of the chaotic happenings going on in the room.   This is the home of a lifeboatman and in the bed is his wife who is very ill.  The husband, in his shirt sleeves, leans over to talk to her.  Next to him stands a lifeboatman who has come to take him away to their lifeboat.  The door of his cottage is held open by his daughter and we can see that outside there is a gale force wind blowing over rough seas, in which is a boat in trouble.  The call has gone out for all the local lifeboatmen to rush to launch the lifeboat and the wife’s husband is torn between his duty to his sick wife and his duty to the lifeboat rescue.  The painting is based on the English poet and journalist, George Roberts Simms poem, The Lifeboat.  The words of the poem which Hedley has illustrated so beautifully are:

“…I didn’t move, but pointed to the white face on the bed-

“I can’t go, mate,” I murmured; “in an hour she may be dead,

I cannot go and leave her to die in the night alone.”

As I spoke Ben raised the lantern, and the light on my wife was thrown;

And I saw her eyes fix strangely with a pleading look on me,

While a tremblin’ finger pointed through the door to the ragin’ sea,

Then she beckoned me near and whispered “Go, and God’s will be done!

For every lad on that ship, John, is some poor mother‘s son…”.

So how did the story end?   It had a happy conclusion.  The husband went with the lifeboat and helped to save the crew of the sinking ship. One of them was his long-lost son, and when he took him home, his mother was overjoyed and recovered from her illness.  The poem was quoted in the exhibition catalogues when the work was exhibited in 1891 and 1892, in Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, and South Shields, and in the Royal Academy.  The painting is now in the collection at Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston.

                       Ars Longa. Vita Brevis by Ralph Hedley (1900)

Hedley completed an interesting work in 1900 entitled Ars Longa, Vita Brevis which was exhibited at that year’s Royal Academy Exhibition.  It would almost be classed as a Vanitas painting focusing on the unstoppable transience of life but it does not have the usual Vanitas symbols such as burnt out candles and skulls.  And yet the title of the painting, Ars longa, Vita Brevis meaning Art is long, life is short is the perfect title for a Vanitas work.  The painting is one that elicits our sympathy for the aging artist we see before us.  Look how the depiction evokes this feeling.  The setting is a small drably-coloured attic space in which we see the artist sitting on his bed in front of an easel.  He loosely holds his palette and brushes and yet he has to rest them on his knees.  He has nodded off to sleep in the middle of his work.  Is it that he is tired or is it a sign that he has almost given up on life?  What are his circumstances and what are his thoughts?  Is he lonely and without friends?  Does he mull over his past life and consider past decisions that he has made and which have brought him to this point in his life?  I will leave you to decide.

                                                                          Duty Paid by Ralph Hedley (1886)

In the foreground of his 1886 painting, Duty Paid, we see a man has come to an office on the quayside to collect a parcel brought in by the ship. He puts his money on the table which is due in Custom’s Duty and one of the Customs officers meticulously fills in details of the payment in a ledger. On the other side of the table, another official seals the parcel with red wax, evidencing that duty has been paid. This is a typical Ralph Hedley depiction of local people and local scenes. His oeuvre provided us with an important record of life in the region in that period between the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

     John Graham Lough in His Studio by Ralph Hedley

One of the strangest paintings by Ralph Hedley depicted John Graham Lough an English sculptor who was recognised for his funerary monuments and a variety of portrait sculpture. He also produced ideal classical male and female figures.  Lough had come to London in 1824 to study the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum.  He was living and had his studio on the first floor of a house in his Burleigh Street lodgings, above a greengrocer’s shop, and it was there that he embarked on a mould for his massive statue of Milo of Croton based on his studies of the Elgin Marbles and the work of Michelangelo.  According to Joshua Lax’s 1884 book, Historical and Descriptive Poems, this was the sculptor’s big chance at being a successful sculptor.   The biggest problem Lough faced was that his studio was too small and the ceiling height was too low for him to complete the statue.   Joshua Lax explains:

“…With the recklessness of a bold genius reduced to desperation, he actually broke through the ceiling of the room above him and made for himself sufficient space to work at his statue. The owner began to take steps for instituting legal proceedings, and even consulted Mr. Brougham (afterwards Lord Brougham) for this purpose. Brougham went to look at the Milo, and see for himself what Lough had done… The news of the strange affair soon spread, and, before long, the whole street where Lough’s room was situated was lined with the carriages of ladies and gentlemen, who had come to view the place, and to see Milo…”

In the painting we see the unhappy landlord and his lawyer, Henry Brougham at the base of the sculpture whilst the sculptor is at work on the upper part of the work, unrepentant with his destruction of the ceiling in his lodgings.

                                                         The Tournament by Ralph Hedley (1898)

In 1898 Hedley completed a painting which was to realise the highest price for one of his paintings at auction, (£43,020 at Bonhams in 2004).  It was entitled  The Tournament.  Hedley was influenced stylistically by the Newlyn school and other social realist painters.  He also focused on life in his much-loved Newcastle and the surrounding Tyneside area for his subject matter. The scope of his depictions was enormous.  It ranged from the uncompromising realism of workers on the dockside and miners to the delightful naivety of children at play, as we see depicted in The Tournament.

                                                           One-time home of Ralph Hedley in Newcastle.

Ralph Hedley’s involvement with the Bewick club, as successful exhibitor, committee member and eventually as president, guaranteed him a number of wealthy patrons for both his wood carvings and his paintings. However, his work was also loved by the working class, the subject of many of his works, and they gained access to his work through the many reproductions of his most well-known works could be found in local papers, tea promotions and adverts for cigarettes. He became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and exhibited a number of paintings at the Royal Academy.

                                                                                          Blue Plaque

Ralph Hedley died on June 11th 1913 aged 64 at his terraced home in 19 Belle Grove Terrace, Newcastle-on-Tyne.  There is a blue plaque commemorating Ralph Hedley who lived in the house from 1888 to his death in 1913.

Ralph Hedley. Part 1

                                                            Self portrait by Ralph Hedley (1895)

In this blog I am once again returning to nineteenth century social realism art.  Today’s artist was a genre painter who was also known for his wood carvings and book illustrations. Let me introduce you to the English painter, Ralph Hedley.

Ralph Hedley was born in the North Yorkshire village of Gilling West near Richmond on New Year’s Eve 1848, the son of carpenter, Ralph Hedley, and his wife Anne Hedley.  The Farrier’s Arms in Gilling West was the first house Ralph lived in.  Around the age of two, Ralph and his family left Yorkshire and moved to Newcastle upon Tyne where the Industrial Revolution had opened up new opportunities for work. 

                                                      Iron and Coal by William Bell Scott (1855–60)

Ralph attended school up to the age of thirteen and then became an apprentice at the wood carving workshop of Thomas Tweedy and during his evenings he attended art and design classes at the Government School of Art in Newcastle upon Tyne, where the principal was the Scottish poet and artist, William Bell Scott, a landscape and history painter who had also painted scenes from the Industrial Revolution in his work.  The Industrial Revolution had changed the life of the population.  Changes which were good for some but for others who had moved to the cities to grab the new opportunities for work there had been adverse consequences due to the rapid growth of dense urban areas with their problems of public health, housing, crime, and poverty.  William Bell Scott greatly influenced Ralph Hedley.  And at the age of 14 Ralph was awarded a bronze medal by government’s Department of Art and Science.

On completion of his apprenticeship with Thomas Tweedy, Hedley set up his own woodcarving and architectural sculpture business, which proved a great success.  As a wood carver, he received many commissions for decorative work in churches.  In 1874. Hedley married his wife Sarah Storey and they had six children, three boys and three girls. One daughter died in an accident, but the other five would all take up woodcarving as well, and two of his sons, on the death of their father, would take over the running of the workshop.

                                          The Newsboy by Ralph Hedley (1879)

Despite working as a wood carver, Hedley loved to spend his free time painting, and he had many of his works accepted into the Royal Academy’s exhibitions.   Hedley had more than fifty of his paintings displayed at the Royal Academy between 1879 and 1904. In 1879, he completed his painting entitled The Newsboy accepted by the Royal Academy’s jurists for inclusion at that summer’s exhibition.  It is a humorous depiction of a very young boy who has succumbed to tiredness and fallen asleep on some stone steps as he waits to offer people his newspapers.

                                      The Newsboy by Ralph Hedley (1892)

Thirteen years later Hedley returned to the subject with his 1892 version of the The Newsboy.  An article about this picture appeared in the Evening Chronicle of 27 January 1930:

“…For years this young newsboy stood against the hoardings which then occupied a site practically opposite the Central Station…..Seen almost invariably with a sack around his shoulders this young seller of ‘Chronicles’ became a familiar figure…”

                 Blinking in the Sun (Cat in a Cottage Window) by Ralph Hedley (1881)

In 1881 Hedley completed one of his best-loved paintings, Blinking in the Sun (Cat in a Cottage Window) sometimes referred to as Ralph’s Cat.  This tabby cat has that lazy, “loving-the-sunshine” expression on its face which every cat lover will recognise as their feline searches out the warmest spot they can find. Its sleek fur looks like it is a well cared for feline.  The cat is sitting on the windowsill of an old stone cottage next to an old earthenware pot of geraniums and narcissi and a Chinese vase of red tulips.

                                                                      Thomas Bewick by James Ramsay

Ralph Hedley and a number of fellow Newcastle artists set up the Bewick Club in 1884, an art group named after Thomas Bewick, the famous Northumbrian wood engraver. The club held a number of exhibitions which attracted large numbers of artists from the region.  The works on show varied from landscapes and seascapes to genre depictions that had a sense of gritty realism.  The raison d’être of the Club was to promote the needs of professional artists and to urge not only the patronage of rich individuals but of the interested less wealthy local population.

                           Chancel and Reredos, The Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle.                        Photograph by Peter Loud, as captured from his impressive panoramic virtual tour of the cathedral.

Between 1882 and 1889 Ralph Hedley’s skills as a wood carver were put to use in the renovation of the interior of the Chancel and Reredos of the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle.  His workshop carved the choir and rood screen for the scheme by architect Robert James Johnson.  John McQuillen, author of The Church of St. Nicholas, With a Brief Sketch of the History of Newcastle wrote of Hedley’s role in the internal renovations:

“…The richly-carved woodwork, a creation in which grace and strength are united, is strictly in keeping with the severe style of the chancel, and in accord with ecclesiastical traditions, was executed by Mr Ralph Hedley, and splendidly upholds his craftmanship and artistic feeling…”

Hedley’s great-granddaughter, Clodagh Brown, said that Hedley was responsible for the exceptionally fine wood carving in the choir, including the rood screen, Bishop’s throne, and canons’ stalls with misericords.  For more details of Hedleys work in the cathedral take a look at Victorian Web page: 

 http://victorianweb.org/painting/hedley/woodcarvings/1.html

What I believe was Hedley’s greatest contribution to society was his pictorial history of everyday life in Tyneside during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. When he died in 1913, the Newcastle Daily Chronicle recognised the importance of his work, writing:

“…What Burns did for the peasantry of Scotland with his pen, Ralph Hedley with his brush and palette had done for the Northumberland miner and labouring man…”

                                                                 Out of Work by Ralph Hedley (1888)

The Industrial Revolution in Britain was a period deemed to be between 1780 and 1830.  It was an episode in British history which saw the transition from being agricultural to being industrial.  There was a movement of the population from the rural areas to the urban areas.  The standard of living for those working-class people who came to the city in search of work was of a poor standard and to make matters worse, work was hard to come by and when you achieved employment, the wages were meagre and barely enough to survive and support your family.  These hard times were ones Hedley depicted in his paintings.  One example of this is his 1888 painting entitled Out of Work with an alternative title, Nothing to do.  The setting is the dockside of the River Tyne.  The four men had queued for a job that morning but were not hired.  Now all they have to do is to sit around and wait to re-apply for work the next morning.  Look at their distraught expressions.  They know they have to return home to their families and break the bad news.

                                                            Seeking Situations by Ralph Hedley (1904)

Another of Hedley’s work which focused on the plight of the unemployed is his 1904 painting, Seeking Situations.  The setting for Hedley’s work is what we would now call a “Job Centre”.  In it we see a number of men, some only young lads who may be looking for their first job, and a single female.  They are all studying the job adverts which are posted on the information boards.  According to the Laing Gallery in Newcastle which owns the painting, the setting is in fact the Victoria City Library, a building which was situated close to the artist’s studio in Newcastle.  It is interesting to look carefully at the various individuals Hedley has depicted.  In the foreground there is a bearded gentleman who is slightly hunched over.  Looking at the way he is dressed, he does not look like a manual worker and probably held, at one time, a supervisory role.  He looks sad and dejected.  He is walking away from the noticeboards having not been able to find any suitable employment.  His age and reduced ability are probably working against him.  Contrast his hunched and crestfallen demeanour with that of the young man to the right of him.  Again, by his clothes we know he is not a manual worker.  He is dressed in typical office-clothes.  His appearance and mood could not be more different to that of the bearded gentleman.  He looks pleased and eager as he spots a job description which would suit him perfectly.  He hastily writes down the information.  The only woman depicted in the painting is dressed well and has a refined air about her.  She is probably looking for shop work rather than factory work.  This compassionate but entirely unemotional work was a great example of social realism and is one of Ralph Hedley’s best-known paintings.

                                                                  Barred Out by Ralph Hedley

Young children of working-class families and their lot in life was depicted in many of Hedley’s paintings, as was there time at school.  A fine example of this genre was his 1896 painting with the unusual title, Barred Out.   The title is all about a widespread custom, up to the 19th century, known as the ‘barring-out’ of the schoolteacher by his pupils. On a certain day agreed by the school authorities, the pupils planned to bar the classroom door with the teacher outside and refused to let him in until he agreed to their terms, which were usually for a half-holiday, or something similar.  In Hedley’s painting we see schoolchildren enjoying the North-East custom of barring the teacher from the classroom on the 29th of May,  until the holidays for the next year had been agreed. One boy is wearing a Northumberland hat with a red pom-pom. Ralph Hedley has depicted the setting as a shabby country classroom in which children of many different ages are being taught together. The children’s clothing albeit shabby and multi-patched does not detract from the depiction of happy and healthy children.  However, although some of the children’s clothes are patched, they seem happy and healthy.

………………….to be continued

Walter Dendy Sadler

Walter Dendy Sadler

It is difficult to categorise today’s featured artist. It is difficult to compartmentalise his style of paintings. He is a genre painter. He is a satirical painter. He is a humourist painter. I suppose the closest one comes to liken him with a famous artist is that his paintings have a soupçon of the 18th century works of William Hogarth. Let me introduce you to the 19th century English painter Walter Dendy Sadler.

For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow and So Say all of Us by Walter Dendy Sadler

Walter Dendy Sadler was born on May 12th, 1854 in the Surrey market town of Dorking, which lies some twenty miles south of London. He was the son of a solicitor and attended school in Horsham. During his school days he developed a love of sketching. Walter decided that in the future he wanted to follow an artistic path and become a professional painter and so he took some local art tuition. In 1870 at the age of sixteen he left Horsham and enrolled at the prestigious Heatherly School of Fine Arts in London. In 1871 he went to Germany and received private tuition from Wilhelm Simmler and studied under the English genre painter, James Moulton Burfield 

Interior by Walter Dendy Sadler

He was barely eighteen years of age when he first exhibited his work at the Dudley Gallery in 1872 and a year later his work was exhibited at the Royal Academy. He continued showing at the R.A. from 1873 into the 1890’s. Although young, Sadler often portrayed elderly people in his early submissions to the Royal Academy, such as The Old Squire and The Young Squire (RA exhibition 1887), Old and Crusted (RA exhibition 1888), and The Young and the Old (RA exhibition 1898). In Daniel B. Shepp’s 1905 survey Library of History and Art Dendy was praised by critics for his “close sympathy with human life in its many phases, and a keen appreciation of its spirit, whether humorous or pathetic”.

Mated by Walter Dendy Sadler

Sadler’s works of art were extremely popular in both Europe and America. In the magazine Good Housekeeping in 1912 a profile of the artist claimed that:

“…Few American homes contain no reproduction of Dendy Sadler’s studies of pre-Victorian middle-class life”

Prints of his work sold in the millions in the United States, with original canvases fetching prices in the thousands of dollars. In the same magazine Sadler explained why he liked to depict elderly people in his works. He wrote:

“…I have been asked why so often I choose old people to smile and frown and think in my compositions. To me, the dignity of old age is most appealing. To me, the pathetic beauty of the autumn of our years is more stirring than the senseless impatience of youth and the heat of our amorous summers…”

The Skipper’s Birthday by Walter Dendy Sadler

The subject of his paintings were contemporary people shown in domestic and daily life pursuits. The depictions of the people would often have comical expressions and sometimes pointing out their greed, foolishness etc. The figures depicted in his paintings were usually set in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries, often with sentimental, romantic, and humorous themes. Sadler was known for his elaborate staging of his paintings.  

The Young and the Old by Walter Dendy Sadler

Before painting a scene, he would create elaborate settings in which local villagers would often pose as models. Indeed, as he often used the same props and models, these can sometimes be seen repeated in successive paintings in different guises. The home, the monastery, the inn, the lawyer’s office, the garden, and the golf course all provide subjects for his wit and clever social scrutiny.  All would be dealt a dose of his wit and his clever observation.

There’s Joy in Remembrance (Portrait of a Lady at Her Desk) by Walter Dendy Sadler

Sadler was lauded for his works of art and he achieved greater popularity with the general public. The paintings reminded people of bygone days of charm and culture and are hailed as being as fresh today as the day he painted them. People who liked the delicate feeling expressed in Sadler’s works flocked to own one of his works or a print of them. It was not just the sentimentality of these “old-time” paintings that appealed to thousands of buyers but it was also his artistic talent.

End of the Skein by Walter Dendy Sadler (1896)

His submission to the Royal Academy jurists for their 1896 exhibition was a painting entitled End of the Skein. The setting is a well-appointed sitting room. To the left is an elderly gentleman seated in a padded mahogany chair draped with a paisley Kashmir shawl and across from him we see an elderly lady seated in a striped armchair, whom we perceive to be his wife. Both sit before a warming fire. The couple are examples of “good old age” living, both independent and leading a productive life. They sit working together to make a skein of red yarn into a ball, ready for knitting. It is a sign of loving co-operation between the couple. So, what do we deduce from the portrayal of the two figures? What do you think?  I would suggest they are of upper-middle or upper-class status, and their financial status that goes with this class of person would have some relevance on their life expectancy, their comfortable living, and they would probably command great respect from their family. Not just respect but loving care. This refined couple had a greater life expectancy than most as their secured economic status would have allowed for a healthier diet, a peaceful and contented lifestyle, and higher standard of living and with this came a higher life expectancy. The elaborate setting for the painting with its abundance of ornaments and painting in some ways takes us away from the couple and has us carefully scanning the room itself. However, they are pointers to the wealth of the couple, who seemed to be unburdened by the various financial pressures and consequences of poverty. The mantel above the fireplace is decorated with a naval scene hanging in an ornate frame behind a fine-looking clock, on either side of which we see a couple of matching blue and white Chinese jars.

Thursday by Walter Dendy Sadler (1880)

Many of Sadler’s humorous paintings featured monks, and monastic life. In his 1880 painting, Thursday, which is also known as ‘Tomorrow will be Friday‘, he depicts a group of Franciscan monks fishing. These friars were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays, as a reminder that Friday was the day when Christ was crucified. Sadler wrote about the depiction:

“…The background was made up from studies I had painted in Germany, with the help of some foreground studies made in the previous summer at Hurley on the Thames…”

This painting can be found at Tate Britain. It was one of three paintings that commenced Sir Henry Tate’s collection.

Friday by Walter Dendy Sadler. (1882)

A pendant to this picture, painted two years later in 1882 and entitled Friday hangs in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. This work shows the abbot and the monks at dinner on Friday enjoying their meal of fish which had been caught the previous day and was in lieu of the prohibited meat. Each side of the jovial looking abbot are monks from another monastery, hence the different coloured habits. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy show in 1882 but received scant attention, probably due to being placed high up on a wall. This fact was commented on by a writer in the Art Journal who stated:

“…A good picture, which would have done much to make its author had it received better treatment from the hangers…Several of the minor details, such as the excessively modern appearance of the table and its furniture, might be criticized; but on the whole the picture is to be praised for its genuine humour, and for the careful solidity of its execution…”

Sadler talked about his painting, Friday saying:

“I can recall no reason why I tried to paint monks, but I do remember that I never had a real monk as a model. I have studied them on the Continent, also at a small monastery in Crawley, Sussex…… The figures to the right and left of the abbot are monks of the order of St. Francis, their habits are brown; the other monks are of the order of St. Dominic, and their habits are black and white…”

A Good Bowl of Punch by Walter Dendy Sadler (1886)

Once again older men featured in Sadler’s 1886 painting A Good Bowl of Punch. Before us, we see three cheerful gentlemen seated around a table, one is peeling an orange into a bowl of rum, whilst the other two, who are holding their long-handled pipes, watch on intently. The setting is a bright panelled interior with its English type carvings.

The Village Postman by Walter Dendy Sadler

I particularly like his painting entitled The Village Postman. Sadler painted during the reign of Queen Victoria and during this period, nostalgic and romantic scenes were favoured by the buying public. Look at the work and make up your mind what is going on.  He has been doing his round on a horse. This picture is part of a Victorian fashion for nostalgic and romantic scenes showing life a hundred years before. The postman appears to have come by horse as he has a riding whip tucked under his left arm. He is sorting out the mail in front of the girl. She clasps her hands nervously. Could it be that she is expecting a letter from her lover?

In the Camp of the Amalekites by Walter Dendy Sadler

One of Sadler’s paintings has a strange title and one I am at a loss to understand. Any ideas ???

The title is In the Camp of the Amalekites. In my search to understand the relevance of the title. The Encyclopædia Britannica states:

“…Amalekite, member of an ancient nomadic tribe, or collection of tribes, described in the Old Testament as relentless enemies of Israel, even though they were closely related to Ephraim, one of the 12 tribes of Israel. The district over which they ranged was south of Judah and probably extended into northern Arabia. The Amalekites harassed the Hebrews during their Exodus from Egypt and attacked them at Rephidim near Mount Sinai, where they were defeated by Joshua. They were among the nomadic raiders defeated by Gideon and were condemned to annihilation by Samuel. Their final defeat occurred in the time of Hezekiah…”

But what have the Amalekites to do with Sadler’s painting which features a Parliamentarian soldier (a Roundhead) who is being held captive by a group of Royalists. Roundheads were the supporters of the Parliament of England during the English Civil War which lasted from 1642 to 1651. The Roundheads, also known as Parliamentarians, fought against King Charles I of England and his supporters, known as the Cavaliers or Royalists, who claimed rule by absolute monarchy and the principle of the ‘divine right of kings’.  The setting is an interior with wood-timbered walls and floor. On the left we see a Roundhead prisoner bound to a chair. Opposite him are a row of Royalist soldiers seated along a bench. The Royalists are all wearing their uniform of a white shirt with red breeches. Some are wearing red waistcoats and hats. They have just eaten a meal as on the table on the far right behind the bench bears the remains of the meal.

River House, Hemingford Grey

Walter Dendy Sadler died in the small Cambridgeshire village of Hemingford Grey on November 13th 1923, aged 69. He had moved to the village in 1897 and lived at River House .

Alfred Sisley. Part 2 – London and Paul Durand-Ruel

Alfred Sisley by Renoir (1876)

The year is 1870 and on July 19th France had declared war on Prussia. The war went badly for France and the siege of the Paris ended in an armistice on January 28th 1871. It was a crushing defeat for the French and for the Parisians three months of further violence and bloodshed was to follow from March to May of that year with the uprising known as the Paris Commune. Alfred Sisley lost everything that he owned at his apartment in Bougival. Like so many others, his house was looted and destroyed by the occupying forces. As mentioned in the previous blog, worse was to follow as in 1871 his father’s business collapsed and his father became bankrupt and later died penniless. Alfred Sisley had now to rely on the sale of is paintings for he and his family to survive. Artists needed a way to exhibit and sell their works and at one time the Paris Salon was the only and the way to do that and that depended on their work being accepted by the Salon jurists, but then came the art dealers with their private galleries and this meant the artists did not have to rely on the Salon to market their work.

Enter Paul Durand-Ruel who was to play a part in Alfred Sisley’s life in the 1870’s. Durand-Ruel was born in Paris, on October 31st, 1831, the son of shopkeepers Jean Durand and Marie Ruel. It was in their shop that they allowed famous artists to display their paintings and sketches. In the 1840’s, their shop soon became a regular rendezvous for artists and collectors alike, so much so that Jean Durand decided to turn their shop into an art gallery. Their seventeen-year-old son, Paul, joined the family business in 1848. It must have been an exciting time for the young man as he was sent all over Europe to seek out new artists and sell their paintings. In the mid-nineteenth century, his father’s gallery specialized in paintings produced by the landscape artists of the Barbizon School, such as Corot. Paul Durand-Ruel knowledge of art grew and in 1863 he was acknowledged as the firm’s resident art expert. Following the death of his father in 1865, Paul Durand-Ruel took over the business.

Photograph of  Paul Durand-Ruel’s grand salon at Rue de Rome . Paris, with ‘Dance in the City’ by Renoir

During the Franco-Prussian War Durand-Ruel left Paris and escaped to London. It was in the English capital that he met up with a number of exiled French artists including Charles-François Daubigny, Claude Monet, and Camille Pissarro. Paul set up his own London art gallery at 168 New Bond Street and in December 1870, he staged the first of ten Annual Exhibitions of the Society of French Artists.  Soon Durand-Ruel became acquainted with their works and through them met their fellow artists.

Paul Durand-Ruel by Renoir (1910)

Paul Durand-Ruel returned to Paris, and there, he secured Impressionism’s place in history through tireless promotion across Europe and the United States and enthusiastic Americans ensured its success. Durand-Ruel discovered, promoted, protected, advocated, and finally exported the work of Sisley, Renoir, Monet, Degas, and Pissarro. Of al the art dealers, he was by far the most committed to their art. He invested in it at a time when all they had to show were refusals and derision at their efforts. It was an interesting relationship between Durand-Ruel and the artists. It was almost a one-way association. He offered them passionate and financial support, the painters repaid him with the only thing they had: their loyalty, which in a way, counted for nothing since he was almost the only dealer who wanted their work. Often, he would over-pay for their finished paintings so as to keep their prices up, but he was rarely able to sell it on. He admitted he was not a good businessman and once said that if he had died when he was in his mid-fifties, he would have died penniless. This was mainly due to the Paris Bourse crash of 1882 which was the worst crisis in the French economy in the nineteenth century. Durand-Ruel was forced to repay the money he had borrowed from Jules Feder, 0ne of the struggling directors of the ill-fated l’Union Générale bank, which eventually collapsed. It was a bank established by Catholic grandees in 1876 to compete with the famous German-Jewish Rothschild bankers.

Claude Monet, Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), 1872,

However, everything changed for Durand-Ruel around 1892 when he succeeded in establishing the market for Impressionism in the United States. The first official French Impressionist exhibition in the United States opened at New York City’s American Art Association from April to May, 1886, and later, in 1887, it moved to the New York City’s National Academy of Design with additional works of art. Of the American buying public Durand-Ruel is quoted as saying:

“…Without America, I would have been lost, ruined, after having bought so many Monets and Renoirs. The two exhibitions there in 1886 saved me. The American public bought moderately . . . but thanks to that public, Monet and Renoir were enabled to live and after that the French public followed suit…”

In 1887, Paul Durand-Ruel opened a New York City gallery at 297 Fifth Avenue named Durand-Ruel & Sons; two years later, in September 1889, it moved to 315 Fifth Avenue, and finally, in 1894, to 398 Fifth Avenue. The gallery was managed by his three sons, Charles, Joseph, and Georges.

Alfred Sisley may not have lived to share the American public’s recognition enjoyed by the likes of Renoir, Monet and Degas but they still liked his atmospheric landscapes which were shown at many of the American exhibitions and were part of many private collections before 1914.

In July 1874, Sisley made a return trip to London with his friend the famous French Opéra-Comique singer, Jean-Baptiste Faure, an avid collector of Impressionist paintings. Faure bankrolled their trip by buying six of Sisley’s works. The pair stayed initially in South Kensington before moving to Hampton Court. Hampton Court was a popular leisure resort with good accessibility to central London. In that year Sisley completed a painting depicting part of the bridge joining Hampton Court with the small village of East Molesey on the south side of the river Thames. It was entitled Une Auberge à Hampton Court (Hampton Court Bridge: The Castle Inn). The Castle Inn, which some believe could have been where the pair were staying, is the focal point of the painting. The relaxed leisurely feeling is depicted by the elegantly clothed figure as he saunters down the road towards us. Sisley has overpainted the light grey ground with bright tones. Look how Sisley has emphasised the broad gravel street by placing his figures to the very edge of it and by doing this he has established a broad vacant zone directly in front of us.

The Bridge at Hampton Court, Alfred Sisley, (1874)

Another work painted by Sisley in 1874 featured the opposite end of the bridge at Hampton Court and is entitled Hampton Court Bridge: The Mitre Inn. The bridge in the painting was the third one on this site having been built in 1865. This was replaced by the current bridge, constructed of reinforced concrete, faced with red bricks and white Portland Stone, in 1933. The inn is the red brick building on the left. There was an inn at each end of the bridge. On the south end was the Castle Inn (previous painting) and on the north end there stood the Mitre Inn. In this painting we once again see the depiction of part of the cast iron bridge which spanned the Thames at Hampton Court and it is thought that Sisley painted this view whilst on the terrace of the Castle Inn.

Regatta at Hampton Court, by Alfred Sisley (1874),

This viewpoint was used by him for his painting, Regatta at Hampton Court. The large trees on the left and centre of the painting hide the entrance to Hampton Court, one of the royal palaces.

Under the bridge at Hampton Court, Alfred Sisley (1874)

By far one of the quirkiest paintings of the bridge by Sisley was his work entitled Under Hampton Court Bridge. The dramatic depiction is painted from beneath the cast iron and brick bridge and the view between the avenue of bridge piers is of the far riverbank and a pair of rowing boats.

Three paintings of the Hampton Court bridge by Sisley, a bridge which was not known for its beauty, with one commentator of the time asserting that

“…it was one of the ugliest bridges in England, and a flagrant eyesore and disfigurement both to the river and to Hampton Court…” 

However, for Sisley it was a structure worthy of his time and effort.

..………………to be concluded

Alfred Sisley. Part 1: The early years.

1882 photograph of Alfred Sisley

The artist I am looking at today is not one of my “unknown” painters I often showcase. This artist is well known and his works are in collections all around the world. Today’s featured painter is Alfred Sisley.

Felicity and William Sisley, Alfred’s parents.

Alfred Sisley was born on October 30th 1839 at 19 rue des Trois Bornes which was in what was then the 4th arrondissement of Paris. He was the son of the British couple, William Sisley, and Felicity Sisley (née Sell) and although born in France, he retained his British citizenship. Little is known about his siblings. Some articles say he was one of four children, others say he just had one older sibling who died young. Alfred’s maternal ancestors came from the English county of Kent and were said to have been smugglers and tradesmen. His parents were affluent. His father owned a silk exportation business which he had established in 1839. Little is known about Sisley’s schooling except to say in the Spring of 1857, when he was almost eighteen years old, his father sent him to London to learn how to embark on a career in commerce. It is clear that Sisley had neither an aptitude for, nor a love of, commerce. However, the upside for young Alfred was that being in London he was able to visit museums and exhibitions and began to fall in love with the works of Gainsborough, Turner and Constable as well as the Dutch and Flemish artists, such as Hobbema and Ruisdael, which he saw at the National Gallery.

Portrait of Alfred Sisley by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (ca. 1875)

In 1860 Sisley returned home to Paris. Whether his father realised that his son lacked the ability to follow in his footsteps as a tradesman or whether Sisley had bombarded his father with his desire to become an artist, will never be known, but in 1860, Alfred Sisley began studying at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts within the atelier of Swiss artist Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre. Many famous French artists had passed through Gleyere’s studio, such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and Auguste Toulmouche.

Sisley, like his friend Renoir and Monet, left the atelier Gleyre around 1864 when it closed and they decided to move to the rural area of Fontainebleau and the small town of Barbizon. Sisley worked in Chailly-en-Bière and later in Marlotte near Fontainebleau. Renoir recalled the days spent with Sisley. In a letter to the art critic Adolphe Tavernier, Renoir wrote:

“…When I was young, I would take my paintbox and a shirt, Sisley and I would leave Fontainebleau and walked until we reached a village. Sometimes we did not come back until we had run out of money about a week later…”

The Inn of Mother Anthony by Renoir (1866)

Renoir had been sharing Sisley’s Paris studio since July 1865 and in February 1866 the two of them along with Renoir’s friend, the artist Jules Le Coeur set out to walk across the Forest of Fontainebleau passing through the villages of Milly and Courances on their way to Marlotte, a village on the southern edge of the Fontainebleau Forest, close to the River Loing. Renoir immortalised the group in his 1866 painting The Inn of Mère Anthony. In the depiction we see that Renoir has had his friends, Le Coeur, Sisley, Mère Anthony and her daughter pose for the painting in the main room of the inn at Marlotte.

Rue de village à Marlotte (Village Street in Marlotte) by Alfred Sisley (1866). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

One of many paintings completed by Sisley around this time was entitled Village Street in Marlotte. The painting portrays a solitary figure chopping wood. A sombre palette of greens, browns, and grey-blues underscores an overall feeling of isolation. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Sisley seldom travelled and did not feel compelled to depict urban life, industrialization, and the more dramatic aspects of nature, contenting himself with painting the world close at hand.

Women going to the Woods by Alfred Sisley (1866)

Another work by Sisley was entitled Women going to the Woods and depicts three elderly women wrapped up against the cold who are setting out to the forest, probably to collect firewood and is a reminder that people were reliant on the forest for their existence. Both of Sisley paintings were exhibited at the 1866 Paris Salon.

Sisley and his Wife by Renoir (1868)

In 1866 Sisley met a thirty-two-year-old florist named Marie-Louise Eugénie Adelaide Lescouezec. According to Renoir she seemed “exceedingly well bred.” Little is known about her upbringing but reports have it that her family’s financial hardships forced her to become an artist’s model, which often had an unsavoury connotation. Yet another account tells of her early life being difficult after her father, an officer, was killed in a duel when she was a young girl. None of this affected in any way Sisley’s love for her and he was to remain devoted to her until her death in 1898.   On June 17th 1868, a year after they met, the couple’s son Pierre was born, followed by a daughter, Jeanne-Adèle, on January 29th 1869. Renoir painted the couple the year they were married.  She was dressed in a bright-coloured red and yellow gown.

Avenue of Chestnut Trees near La Celle-Saint-Cloud by Alfred Sisley (1867)

At the 1868 Salon, Sisley had just one of his paintings exhibited. It was his Avenue of Chestnut Trees near La Celle-Saint-Cloud which he had completed the previous year. It was a large painting (96 x 122cms) and depicts a verdant view through a densely wooded part of the forest, six kilometres west of the village of La-Celle-Saint-Cloud, located in the western suburbs of Paris, 15 kms from the centre. This was the third time Sisley had depicted the forest in his painting. There had been two earlier works of differing sizes, both entitled Avenue of Chestnut Trees at La-Celle-Saint-Cloud, which he completed in 1865. The forest was very popular with Parisians who wanted to briefly escape city life. Look how Sisley has used a shifting range of greens and browns to bring the picture to life. Note the clever way he has used dappled brushwork on the trunks of the trees. Look how we are led through the avenue of trees which propels us back, penetrating the depth of the canvas. If you look closely at Sisley’s work you will notice a solitary deer on the right mid-ground almost lost from view camouflaged by the dark tree trunks. So why the solitary deer? It could well have something to do with having the painting accepted into the Salon by the jurists. Landscape paintings had an inferior position in the hierarchy of pictorial-subject matter by the art establishment, so maybe Sisley realised that a connection with the monarchy would stand him in good stead of having the Salon jury accept the work as his depiction was of the royal hunting grounds of Napoleon III.

The Avenue at Middelharnis by Meindert Hobbema, (1689)

This view down a majestic avenue of trees harks back to paintings Sisley may have seen whilst in London, such as one of his favourite artist’s works, The Avenue at Middelharnis, by Hobbema which hangs in the National Gallery.

Forest of Fontainebleau, undergrowth at Bas-Bréau by Gustave LeGray (1852) Albumen print from a waxed paper negative

Another work which may have influenced him and which he had probably seen at Musée d’Orsay, was Gustave LeGray’s 1855 photograph Forêt de Fontainebleau, sous-bois au Bas-Bréau [Forest of Fontainebleau, undergrowth at Bas-Bréau]. LeGray had received a commission from the committee for historic monuments to photograph the most noteworthy monuments in France and in 1852 and again in 1857 he produced two large collections of photographs of the Forest of Fontainebleau. It is reported that during his walks around Bas-Bréau, in the heart of the forest, LeGray would place his camera right in the middle of the path, at the exact place where he had been struck by the light shimmering through the foliage and he used the line of the path, in this rich composition, to draw the eye towards the clearing where the tree trunks are bathed in light. In this way he produced the image of a site that was very popular with painters. The depiction is all about the forest. There are no human or animal presence to disturb the natural spectacle.

Barges on the Canal Saint Martin in Paris by Alfred Sisley (1870)

Of all the Impressionist, Sisley was the one who loved the countryside the most and liked to paint rural scenes. He was not an urban painter and only completed a smaller number of works which focused on Paris and the Parisian scene favoured by the likes of Renoir and Monet. Indeed, of the very few paintings directly inspired by the French capital, some were depictions of the Canal Saint-Martin in the north-east of the city. It is a 4.6 km long canal in Paris, with nine locks, connecting the Canal de l’Ourcq to the River Seine. Originally built to supply the city with fresh water to support a growing population and help avoid diseases such as dysentery and cholera while also supplying fountains and allowing the streets to be cleaned. Construction of the canal started in 1802 and was completed in 1825. The canal was also used to supply Paris with grain, building materials and other goods, carried on canal boats. It formed part of a continuous network of waterways extending across the city connecting the upper and lower parts of the Seine. One of Sisley’s painting featuring the waterway was his 1870 painting Barges on the Canal Saint-Martin.

A similar work was his 1870 painting Vue du Canal Sint-Martin, which is housed at the Musée d’Orsay. Whereas other artists like Monet and Renoir

The Canal St Martin by Alfred Sisley (1870)

focused on the beauty of the French capital with its spacious sunlit boulevards created by Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann and the newly built apartment blocks. For artists like Renoir and Monet urban life was all about wealth and leisure. For Sisley it was about toil and poverty. He wanted to concentrate on the reality of Paris and life in the capital and not just the picturesque but idealised version of the metropolis and so he focused on the working quays of the Canal Saint-Martin. In the painting we see a wide stretch of the Canal St Martin near the Bassin de la Villette. On either side of the canal, houses and warehouses overlook the waterway and in the central midground is one of the locks. Further back and in the direction of central Paris buildings appear through the haze. Looking at his depiction we know there is a strong breeze which stirs up the water and the time of day deduced by looking at the length of the shadows made by the trees in the water, it must have been around midday. What is also important about Sisley’s painting is the way he has depicted the cloud formations and the nature of the light and its reflections on the water. He captures the moment with his use of a silvery palette of blues and greys, constantly thickening the paint for the highlights on the water. It would be one of the trademarks of his work as an Impressionist.

Alfred Sisley’s finances at this time were said to be at best, perilous and he often had to turn to friends and family for loans. Things were to get worse with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. From September 1870 to January 1871, the French capital was besieged by Prussian forces and one of the dire consequences for Sisley was that his father’s business collapsed and William Sisley was financially ruined. His father lost everything and died shortly thereafter. Alfred’s money stream from his father was over. Sisley’s sole means of support became the sale of his works. 

..……….to be continued

The artists of the Norwich School of Painters. Part 2 – John Crome

Portrait of John Crome, by Michael William Sharp

One of the founding members of the Norwich School of Painters was John Crome. Crome would become one of the three great landscape painters who came from East Anglia. The other two were Gainsborough and Constable. East Anglia was not known for its spectacular or romantic landscapes. Unlike North Wales or the Lake District, there was little to inspire a landscape painter and yet the quiet pastures of the Stour valley and the Dutch-like vistas of the Norfolk Broads attracted many nature lovers.

The Bell Inn by John Crome (1805)

Crome was born on December 22nd, 1768 at the small Norwich ale-house called The King and the Miller and was baptised three days later on Christmas Day at St George’s Church Tombland, Norwich. Crome’s father, John, was an impoverished journeyman weaver. He was also either an alehouse keeper or lodged in an alehouse in a very disreputable part of Norwich, known as Castle Ditches. Crome’s mother was Elizabeth Weaver. Crome had very limited schooling and left  at the age of twelve to become an errand boy to the distinguished Doctor Rigby. After a few years living with and serving the doctor, his employer arranged for him to be apprenticed to Mr Francis Whisler, a coach, house and sign painter, of 41 Bethel Street Norwich. Crome commenced his seven-year apprenticeship on August 1st, 1783. At first Crome’s job was to grind the coloured pigments and look after the brushes. He eventually was allowed to paint the signs, which meant that he had to learn the skill of making the depictions on the signs, stand out at a distance and this talent can be seen in many of his later paintings.

The Beaters by John Crome (1810)

During his apprenticeship he struck up a friendship with Robert Ladbrooke, another young apprentice, one who was training to become a printer. The two young men, both of the same age, had one underlying desire – that of becoming painters. The two decided to work together to achieve that aim and rented out a garret and bought some art prints from the local Norwich print-seller, Smith and Jaggers, which they could spend time copying, and thus, honing their artistic skills. Crome and Ladbrooke would go on drawing trips into the fields sketching the scenery and then sell some of their works to the local print-seller.  The print-seller was impressed with what the two young men could achieve and bought some of their drawings and it is very likely it is through Crome’s drawings that he gained the attention of Thomas Harvey, a local amateur artist and art collector. Thomas Harvey owned a number of paintings by old and modern Flemish and Dutch Masters, particularly Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael, which he had acquired through the good auspices of his Dutch father-in-law.  He also had a collection of works by Gainsborough and Richard Wilson, which he allowed Crome to study and copy.

Moonrise on the Yare by John Crome (c.1811-6)

Through Thomas Harvey, Crome met William Beechy, a leading portrait artist who studied at the Royal Academy Schools in 1772, and is thought to have studied under Johan Zoffany. Beechy first exhibited at the Academy in 1776. In 1781, he moved to Norwich. Beechy could see that Crome was a very talented artist and became his mentor.   Beechy, although living in Norwich, had a studio in London which Crome would visit regularly. Beechy wrote about the first time he met Crome:

“…Crome, when I first knew him, must have been about twenty years old, and was an awkward, uninformed country lad but extremely shrewd in all his remarks upon art, though he wanted words and terms to express his meaning. As often as he came to town he never failed to call upon me and to get what information I was able to give him upon the subject of that particular branch of art, which he made his study. His visits were very frequent and all his time was spent in my painting room when I was not particularly engaged. He improved so rapidly that he delighted and astonished me. He always dined and spent his evenings with me…”

Norwich River, Afternoon by John Crome (c.1819)

On October 2nd 1792, Crome married Phoebe Berney in the medieval St Mary’s Coslany church in the centre of Norwich. The couple went on to have eight children, six sons and two daughters. Two of his sons, John Berney Crome and William Henry Crome became well-known landscape painters.

One of Crome’s rare forays out of the country came in October 1814 when he and two friends crossed the Channel on their way to Paris. Napoleon Bonaparte had just been defeated and hundreds of Englishmen flocked to Paris to view the art treasures held in the Louvre some of which were the spoils Napoleon had collected during his victorious campaigns. On October 10th, 1814, Crome wrote home to his wife informing her that he had arrived safely:

“…My Dear Wife, After one of the most pleasant journeys of one hundred and seventy miles over one of the most fertile countreys I ever saw we arrived in the capital of France. You may imagine how everything struck us with surprise; people of all nations going to and fro – Turks, Jews etc. I shall not enter into ye particulars in this my letter but suffice it to say we are all in good health and in good lodgings…”

Boulevard des Italiens, Paris by John Crome (1815)

Whilst in the French capital Crome set about pictorialy recording his visit and from the sketches he made, he completed a number of paintings on his return home. In 1815 he completed Boulevard des Italiens, Paris. It is a wonderful work, full of life and energy as we see people milling around the flea market. Crome exhibited the work in the Norwich Exhibition in 1815.

Another painting which came from his many sketches he made whilst in France, was one he sketched whilst on his journey back home. It was entitled Fishmarket on the Beach at Boulogne and Crome completed it in 1820.

Boys Bathing on the River Wensum, Norwich by John Crome (1817)

Unlike many other English artists, John Crome, besides his one trip to Paris, rarely ventured outside his beloved country and preferred to explore the countryside of East Anglia. He preferred the home life surrounded by his family. His main focus was on the English landscape and especially the natural scenery of the Norfolk area. He maintained that he only painted what he saw and never took poetic licence with his subjects.  As he succinctly put it, I simply represented Nature as I saw her.  Of Crome’s choice of depictions, one art critic wrote:

“…Crome painted ‘the bit of heath, the boat, and the slow water of the flattish land, trees most of all, the single tree in elaborate study, the group of trees, and how the growth of one affects that of another, and the characteristics of each…”

The Poringland Oak by John Crome (c.1818-1820)

Crome was a gifted draughtsman and an authority when it came to depicting trees. He was one of the first artists of his generation to portray individual tree species in his works, rather than just painting simplified structures. His favoured tree was the English Oak tree. A fine example of this is his oil on canvas work entitled The Poringland Oak which he completed in 1820. Poringland is a village in the district of South Norfolk, England. It lies 5 miles south of Norwich city centre and the heathland around the village was one of Crome’s favourite haunts. The depiction centres on a large oak tree that would have been familiar to local residents. Look at the details of the tree Crome has given us. Look how he has masterfully depicted the clouds. This painting came many decades before the Impressionist works and yet it is a study of light, as the sun begins to set. The depiction we see before us is a perfect idyll. The sun is setting bathing the heath in a golden warmth. Bathers, wanting to relax, have taken to the lake after a hard day’s work.

Mousehold Heath, Norwich by John Crome (c.1818-20)

Another of Crome’s paintings featuring the area he loved so much was completed around 1820 and was entitled Mousehold Heath, Norwich. Mousehold Heath was a well–known stretch of common land which lies five miles north of the city of Norwich. It is a unique area made up of heathland, woodland and recreational open space.  Crome’s painting accentuates its vastness and lack of cultivation. In the foreground Crome has depicted clumps of wildflowers and, in the distance, we can just make out cattle grazing freely on the heath. The painting has the feel of a Dutch painting such as those by Aelbert Cuyp which Crome may have seen in the painting collection of Thomas Harvey. Although this painting was completed around 1820 it was probably a view of the Heath some five or ten years earlier as around 1814 a large quantity of land, including this area, was “enclosed”. Once enclosed, use of the land became restricted and available only to the owner, and it ceased to be common land for communal use. In both England and Wales, this process of allowing cultivation of open land was to boost the production of food.

Moonlight on the Yare by John Crome (c.1817)

Besides the money he received for his paintings his income was further increased by teaching art to the “great and good” and he often travelled around to various country homes in his profession as a drawing master. It was during these visits that he would once again have come across many paintings by the Dutch and Flemish Masters. Seeing such collections also gave him an interest in starting his own collection and soon he was fixated on attending sales at auction rooms and he soon built up his own collection of books, prints and drawings. He bought and bought and soon his home was cluttered by his purchases. One can only presume that his wife stepped in and told him that “enough was enough” for an advert appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle:

“…At Mr Noverre’s Rooms, Yarmouth on Wednesday the 23rd of September 1812 and two following days. A capital assemblage of Prints and Books of Prints; Etchings; Finished Drawings and Sketches by the best masters – Woollett, Strange, Fitler, Bartolozzi, Rembrandt, Waterloo etc. They are the genuine sole property of Mr Crome of Norwich – a great part of whose life has been spent collecting them. Descriptive catalogues, price 6d. each of the booksellers of Yarmouth, Norwich, Lynn, Ipswich and Bury…”

There was no mention of the name of the auctioneer and thus it is supposed that Crome himself ran the auction. Although Crome’s had lost his precious collection he was soon visiting sales rooms again, steadily building a new collection !

Landscape by John Crome

John Crome’s life came to an end, after a sudden illness, on April 22nd 1821. He was fifty-two years old. Crome’s thoughts were constantly directed towards the art he so passionately loved. It is believed that on the day of his death he spoke to his eldest son, twenty-seven year old John Berney Crome. He begged him never to forget the dignity of Art, saying:

“…John, my boy, paint but paint for fame, and if your subject is only a pigsty – dignify it…”

It is said that Crome’s last words on his death bed were a cry from the heart and a loving testament to his favourite landscape painter:

“…Oh, Hobbema !  my dear Hobbema, how I loved you…”

John Crome was buried in the medieval church of St George’s-at-Colegate, Norwich and according to The Norwich Mercury, the local newspaper,  an immense concourse of people bore grateful testimony to the estimation in which his character was generally held.

John Berney Crome by George Clint (c.1820)

 

John Crome was often referred to as “Old Crome” to differentiate him from his talented son the artist John Berney Crome who was referred to as “Young Crome”.

 

 

 

 


A good deal of information about the Norwich School of Painters came from a book published in 1920, entitled The Norwich school; John (“Old”) Crome, John Sell Cotman, George Vincent, James Stark, J. Berney Crome, John Thirtle, R. Ladbrooke, David Hodgson, M.E. & J.J. Cotman, etc. by Charles Geoffrey Holme.  This book can be read on-line at:

https://archive.org/details/cu31924014891992/page/n3