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.

See the source image

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.

gertrude_harvey2_large

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

 

The artists of the Norwich School of Painters. Part 1 – John Sell Cotman.

John Sell Cotman by his son, Miles Edmund Cotman

In the art world one often hears about Schools. Not just meaning art establishments but denoting a group of artists who work from a specific location. Prime examples of this are the Barbizon School, which was active from about 1830 through to 1870, and takes its name from the village of Barbizon, France, near the Forest of Fontainebleau. Probably the best known School in Britain was the Newlyn School, an art colony of artists based in or around Newlyn, a fishing village adjacent to Penzance, on the south coast of Cornwall, from the 1880s until the early twentieth century.  A few blogs ago I wrote about Francis Danby who was part of the Bristol School.

Village in Normandy, France, Noon by John Sell Cotman (1817-1820)

In this blog I am looking at a group of artists who worked out of the county of Norfolk, specifically the town of Norwich. These were painters of the Norwich School, or Norwich Society of Artists, which came into being in 1803 in the town of Norwich and was the first provincial art movement in Britain. The area around Norwich was very picturesque and a landscape painter’s idyll. The Scottish miniaturist, Andrew Robertson who was a friend of Constable, visited Norwich in 1812 and was full of praise for the town’s vitality, writing in a letter:

“…I arrived here a week ago and find it a place where the arts are very much cultivated….some branches of knowledge, chemistry, botany etc are carried to a great length.   General literature seems to be pursued with ardour which is astonishing when we consider that it does not contain a university, and is merely a manufacturing town…”

Robertson continued, talking about the quality of music in the city and then turned his thoughts to the city’s art:

“…Painting and Drawing are as much esteemed, and many are nearly as great proficient….The study of landscape about the town are infinitely beautiful and inexhaustible. The buildings, cottages etc are charming and have invited people to the general practice of drawing, or rather painting in watercolours from nature, assisted by man of considerable abilities as a teacher and landscape painter…”

The Norwich Society of Artists was founded in 1803 by John Crome and Robert Ladbrooke and their idea was that artists could meet and exchange ideas. The Society set down its aims as being:

“…an enquiry into the rise, progress and present state of painting, architecture, and sculpture, with a view to point out the best methods of study to attain the greater perfection in these arts…”

Drop Gate, Duncombe Park, Yorkshire by John Sell Cotman (1805)

The Society, once formed had their first meeting in a local tavern, The Hole in the Wall. Two years later they moved to new premises and the extra space allowing the members to use as a studio and also exhibit their work. Their first exhibition was held in 1805 and it was a great success, so much so, that they held an annual exhibition there for the next twenty years. Unfortunately, the building had to be demolished but three years later, in 1828, the Society members regrouped and became the Norfolk and Suffolk Institution for the Promotion of the Fine Arts.

The leading light of the Norwich School of Painters was John Crome who then attracted many friends and pupils until his death in 1821. Leadership of the Society then fell on John Sell Cotman, who had been a member of the society since 1807, and who continued to keep the Society together until he left Norwich for London in 1834. The Society effectively ceased to exist from that date.

Portrait of John Sell Cotman by Alfred Clint

One of the most well-known artists associated with the Norwich School was John Sell Cotman. Cotman was born on May 16th 1782 in the East Anglia town of Norwich, the son of Edmund Cotman and his wife Ann. He was the eldest of ten children. His father, Edmund Cotman, formerly a barber but latterly a draper by trade, had married Ann Sell. John Sell Cotman initially studied at the Norwich School, which is one of the oldest schools in the world having been founded in 1096. John’s father had intended that once his son had completed his education, he would join him in the family business. However, during his time at school John Cotman had developed a love of art and was determined that he would not spend his working life behind a shop counter. At the age of 16, he left home and went to London to study art.

Houses at Epsom by John Sell Cotman (1800)

Whilst living in London he managed to earn some money by colouring aquatints for Anglo-German lithographer and publisher, Rudolph Ackerman, who had, in 1795, established a print-shop and drawing-school in The Strand. Ackermann had set up a lithographic press and begun a trade in prints.

Doctor Thomas Monro

It was whilst Cotman was in London that he also met Doctor Thomas Monro, who was an avid art collector. Monro was Principal Physician of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and one-time the consulting physician to King George III. Besides being an amateur painter and art collector, he was also a patron to a number of young aspiring artists including Thomas Girtin. Monro had a house in Adelphi Terrace, London where he had his studio and a country house in Merry Hill, a suburb of Bushey just fifteen miles from the capital. Monro liked to surround himself with other artists and J.M.W. Turner was a frequent visitor. He ran an art Academy where he would offer evening art classes, some of which were attended by John Sell Cotman.

The Devil’s Bridge North Wales by John Sell Cotman (c.1801)

John Sell Cotman managed to gain the patronage of Monro and through him met many of the leading British artists of the time and it was through his friendship with Turner, Girtin and Peter de Wint that Cotman continued his artistic development. He enjoyed taking trips out to sketch and it is believed that in 1800 he accompanied Thomas Girtin on a sketching trip to North Wales. A painting which came from one of his trips to North Wales was his 1801 work entitled The Devil’s Bridge, North Wales. A pencil drawing of this subject can be found in Leeds City Art Gallery, and it may well have been the inspiration for this very finished example of a Cotman watercolour.

Harlech Castle by John Sell Cotman (c.1800-1802)

Considering Cotman had had no formal art tuition it is amazing the artistic standard he had reached for someone of such a young age for when he was aged just eighteen, he first exhibited at the Royal Academy showing five works, four depicting scenes from the Surrey countryside and one was of Harlech Castle. When touring North Wales in 1800, he made a series of drawings and watercolours of Welsh subjects during the following years. This watercolour of Harlech Castle in North Wales is related to a sketch he drew on July 30th 1800. The castle at Harlech was built in the thirteenth century by Edward I, and was often represented by artists at this time. It features in watercolours by Girtin, Varley and Turner as well as Cotman.

The success Cotman believed would come about in London never materialised and in 1806 he returned to his hometown of Norwich and began earning his living as an art tutor. When he returned to Norwich he also joined the Norwich Society of Artists.  Cotman exhibited 20 works, including six portraits, at the society’s exhibition in 1807, and 67 works including some oils, in 1808. In 1811 he became president of the society.

Greta Bridge by John Sell Cotman (1806)

One of my favourite works by Cotman is a watercolour entitled Greta Bridge measuring just 22cms x 33cms. Cotman completed the small work in 1805 which can be found in the British Museum. A second version of the painting, a much larger one, (30cms x 50cms), was completed by Cotman in 1810 and is housed in the Norwich Castle Museum. Both of these watercolours recreate the rural solitude and tranquillity of the Greta area of North Yorkshire, where Cotman spent the summers of 1803 – 1805. The Greta Bridge in this painting spanned the river Greta in North Yorkshire near the gates of Rokeby Park. John Cotman had arrived at Rokeby on the evening of July 31st 1805, accompanied by his friend and patron, Francis Cholmeley. It had been arranged in advance that the two men were to stay as guests of the owner of Rokeby Park, John Bacon Sawrey Morritt. Cotman stayed at the house for about three weeks and when his hosts left on business, he remained nearby, taking up lodgings in a room at the local inn, which is the large building to the left of the bridge. Cotman then continued the work he had begun along the river Greta that skirts the park. It is a wonderfully balanced composition depicting the Greta Bridge, with its striking, single arch, which runs horizontally across the picture, in some way dividing it in two and yet uniting it into a single scene. The arch of the bridge epitomizes a great feat of engineering, which Cotman, with his love of architecture, admired. The structure we see before us was designed by John Carr of York, and built in 1773 for Morritt’s father, John Sawrey Morritt, who was a well-known collector of classical antiquities. The bridge replaced a Roman single-arched bridge of the same design.

Chateau Navarre, near Evreux, Normandy by John Sell Cotman (1830)

Cotman had a love of bridges and sketched many. For him, a bridge was a meeting point or landmark for travellers and would often be a point of reference on maps where rivers and roads meet. Cotman was fascinated by the interaction of this man-made feature and how it harmoniously interacted with a natural setting.

Dutch Boats off Yarmouth, Prizes during the War by John Sell Cotman (1824)

In 1809, Cotman married Ann Mills, the daughter of a farmer from the nearby village of Felbrigg and the couple went on to have five children. During his time as a drawing master he taught the local banker, botanist and antiquary Dawson Turner and his children. They became close friends and Dawson Turner introduced him to many prospective students. Cotman began to be interested in etchings and issued the first of his in 1811. He moved from Norwich and for the next ten years he lived in the Norfolk coastal town of Yarmouth and this gave him the opportunity to complete a number of seascapes such as his oil painting Dutch Boats off Yarmouth which depicts a coastal scene at Yarmouth and is a reminder of British naval triumphs over the Dutch navy. England and the Dutch Republic, despite having been allied for a century when they again went to war in 1780, a conflict that lasted four years and became known as the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War.  The conflict followed secret Dutch trade and negotiations with the American colonies, who, at the time, were in revolt against England.  In the background of the painting we can just make out Yarmouth’s monument to the Norfolk hero, Lord Nelson.

Cley Church, Norfolk by John Sell Cotman

It was around this time that Cotman concentrated on printmaking. The majority of his etchings were architectural in nature, with numerous ones of old Yorkshire and Norfolk buildings. It is more than likely that this move towards etchings and printmaking was due to, and inspired in part by his friend and patron, Dawson Turner. Unlike academic, London-based painters who romanticized the English countryside, John Sell Cotman and other members of the Norwich School painted landscapes in their immediate surroundings. An example of this is his 1818 drawing Cley Church, Norfolk which is a depiction of Saint Margaret’s in the village of Cley-next-the-Sea. It exhibits Cotman’s heightened attention to perspective and architectural detail as opposed to vegetation and atmospheric effects. It is now part of the Art Institute Chicago collection.

Church of St Paul at Rouen

In 1817, Cotman, with help from his patron, made the first of three tours of Normandy and out of these journeys came a book in 1822 entitled, Architectural Antiquities of Normandy, one of various books he illustrated with his etchings. The Etching on Chine Colle entitled Church of St Paul at Rouen was one of Cotman’s illustrations for his book.

Church of Querqueville, Near Cherbourg, from the series Architectural Antiquities of Normandy, etching by John Sell Cotman (1822)

Another etching from the series ‘Architectural Antiquities of Normandy‘ was his work, Church of Querqueville, Near Cherbourg.

In January 1834, through the good auspices of J.M.W. Turner, Cotman gained the post of Master of Landscape Drawing at King’s College School in London, which he held until his death. He and his family left Norwich and relocated to the London borough of Bloomsbury. Two years later, his eldest son Miles Edmond Cotman was appointed to assist him. The taking up of the position at King’s College could not have come at a more fortuitous time as Cotman was beginning to have financial problems. Sadly, with these financial problems, which had afflicted him during most of his working life, came bouts of depression, ill health and despondency brought on by the poor sales of his work. During John Cotman’s tenure at King’s College he taught many artists including Dante Rossetti.

John Sell Cotman’s grave in St. John’s Wood, London

Cotman’s last visit to his home town of Norfolk was in the autumn of 1841, just nine months before his death in London on July 24th, 1842. He was buried in the cemetery at St. John’s Wood Chapel.  The 20th century art historian and painter, Charles Collins Baker, said of John Sell Cotman:

“…a great colourist, whose earlier palette produced that rare plenitude that only masters of exquisite simplicity and restraint compass: from his palette the brown glebe, the black reflection of massed trees in a still river, the grey and gold of weathered stone and plaster, the glinting gold on foliage and the gilded green of translucent leaves have a special and supernal quality of dream pageants rather than of actuality…”

For most of the twentieth century, Cotman was the most widely admired English watercolourist, surpassing even Turner in popularity.

Francis Danby. Part 2.

Financial problems, plagiarism and marital difficulties.

Francis Danby

In 1821, Francis Danby fathered a fourth son, Thomas, and the family were still living in the Bristol suburb of Kingsdown.  Aross the River Avon, on the south-west side of the Avon Gorge, was a large area of woodland known as Leigh Woods.

Rownham Ferry from the Somerset side in 1797 by John Hassell

This was a magnet for artists who had a large range of picturesque views to paint and sketch en plein air. However in the 1820’s, there was no Clifton Suspension Bridge which did not get built until 1864 and so, to cross the Avon Danby and fellow painters living in Bristol would have to traverse the river by means of the Rownham Ferry and then walk along the tow path before ascending Nightingale Valley.

A Scene in Leigh Woods by Francis Danby (1822)

Francis Danby completed his painting A Scene in Leigh Woods in 1822. This oil on panel painting measuring 35 x 50 cms is awash with many tones of green but such variation of tones and tints is well managed. The sunlight coming from the right hand side has struggled to penetrate the dens foliage and this results in the shadows not being so dense. The artist has moved away from his two companions who are busily sketching and by distancing himself from his friends he has been able to give us a very relaxed scene. The Revd. John Eagles, a writer and amateur artist, wrote about the friendship between artists when they descended on Leigh Woods and how Leigh Woods was the best painting-ground. In an article, he wrote about the colours one could find there:

“…they were of all shades, but rich as if every colour had by turns blended with them, yet unmixed, so perfect in predominance was the green throughout. So varied likewise was the texture, whether effected by distance, by variety of shade, by opposition, or by character of ground. There was much of emerald, not in colour only, but in transparent depth…”

View of the Avon Gorge by Francis Danby (1819)

Danby also completed another painting in 1822, View of the Avon Gorge, which is a companion piece to A Scene in Leigh Woods. This painting depicts a view looking downstream across the entrance to Nightingale Valley which was a favourite spot for the artists of the Bristol School. In the painting we can see a quarry barge moving slowly up the River Avon. In the distance you can just make out the Sea Walls and to the right you can just see the construction of the Bridge Valley Road which eventually ran around the riverbank on the right.

Boys Sailing a Little Boat by Francis Danby (c.1822)

Another of Danby’s captivating paintings was one he also completed in 1822 which was entitled Boys Sailing a Little Boat. It depicts four young boys and a young girl on a riverbank and a small stone bridge. They are fascinated watching their small model boat floating in the water. A basket of potatoes lies on the riverbank and presumably the children had been taxed to peel them but the thrill of watching their boat in the river has been a distraction. It should be remembered that at this time Danby had four sons and it is thought he could also have a daughter so this may have been his idea of portraying them all in this scene.

Sunset at Sea After a Storm by Francis Danby (1824)

In 1824, all was not well with Francis Danby. He was heavily in debt and he decided his only recourse was to take flight. He and his family left Bristol in April and headed to London where he believed he could make more money selling his work. The breakthrough for Danby came in July that year when he exhibited his painting, Sunset at Sea after a Storm at the Royal Academy which was then bought by the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Thomas Lawrence, who became Danby’s mentor. Not only did Lawrence buy Danby’s painting but he put him forward as an Associate of the Royal Academy. Danby was duly elected in November 1825.

Francis Danby – An Enchanted Isle

Following the good reviews of his painting, Sunset at Sea after a Storm, he followed it up with An Enchanted Isle which had been commissioned by his patron, John Gibbons, and which was shown at the British Institution, to great acclaim.

Danby, Francis; The Delivery of Israel out of Egypt; by Francis Danby (1825)

However his next painting, The Delivery of Israel out of Egypt, which he exhibited at the 1825 Royal Academy Exhibition, was a veritable triumph and was immediately bought by the Marquis of Stafford who was the President of the British Institution for £500. The story of the sale of the work is fascinating. The Marquis saw the painting at a private viewing and immediately mounted his horse and rode of to Danby’s house and bought it. An hour later Lord Liverpool rushed into Danby’s house wanting to buy the work, only to be told he was too late.

The Opening of the Sixth Seal by Francis Danby (1828)

In 1828, Danby completed a somewhat different painting from his light and airy Bristol landscapes. It was entitled The Opening of the Sixth Seal. He actually started the painting in 1825 but gave up on it accusing fellow painter, John Martin, of plagiarising the depiction with his Deluge work. It caused quite a controversy at the time. He returned to the work two years later and completed it in 1828. The depiction was based on the biblical text from the Book of Revelations (6:12-17):

“…I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?…”

It tells of the opening by God of the sixth seal on a scroll, the earth is rent and mankind descends into disarray. The sun becomes black and the heavens collapse; a king slumps among now worthless symbols of his sovereignty (crown and sceptre), people cower in fear of the wrath of God, and a city falls to rubble in the background.

The slave

It is interesting to note that Danby added to his depiction a topical reference to slavery. If you look to the left of the painting you can make out a crouching figure, similar to that adopted as the symbol of the abolitionist movement, and at the centre of the painting there is the figure of a liberated slave, who has broken the shackles that were wrapped around his wrists. This liberated figure in some way answers the question at the end of the biblical text.  So why did Danby choose to paint this very different depiction? The answer probably lies with the fact that the slave trade had been discontinued in 1807 in Britain but the Bill for the abolition of slavery itself was not passed until 1833. Danby was not known to have had any particularly strong feelings for the religious subject in his works, but was opposed to slavery and was conscious that there was a prevailing appetite for the apocalyptic in art. In this work he has excelled at depicting dramatic phenomena in nature, from spectacular sunsets to lightning storms. The painting proved the most popular work at the Royal Academy in London in 1828.  It was a triumph, loved by public and critics alike. Danby had been elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy in November 1825 and now, following the success at the Academy exhibitions, he had high hopes that he would be elected a full member of the Academy. However there was one problem. The other candidate who stood for election was John Constable and Danby began to fear the worse as he anxiously awaited the result of the ballot, saying:

“…the awful moment is coming…..if Constable is put in, I think I will run out…”

As a full member of the Academy he could apply for funds and he knew that Constable would have no reason to ask for money as his wife had just inherited £30,000 and thus Danby believed that the Academy may look on that factor as a reason for choosing Constable. Danby’s fears were well founded and in February 1829 Constable beat Danby by one vote.   Danby was both furious and bitter. He accused Constable as being underhanded and that the Academy had chosen the rich over the poor adding:

“…for the Academy I have much cause to be ashamed as it lowers their value when it is so evident that the have elected Constable for his money…”

His accusation against the Academy held some credence with the National Press, which must have hurt Constable. Even worse for Constable the President of the Academy, Sir Thomas Lawrence, was openly disappointed with the Academy’s choice.

A Study for The Golden Age (pencil and bodycolour on grey paper) by Francis Danby (1827)

A Danby painting of around this time had an interesting tale to it. Around 1826 when Danby was working on a Cleopatra painting for John Gibbons he mentioned to his patron that he had conceived an idea for a large work. It was to be called The Golden Age but he promised it would not hinder the Cleopatra painting although that work was causing him problems. Lord de Tabley, a patron of Turner, had shown an interest in buying one of Danby’s paintings and so Danby sent him a preliminary study of The Golden Age (above), but unfortunately Lord de Tabley was too ill to look at it and so Danby turned to his patron, Gibbons. In a letter to Gibbons in January 1827 Danby included a small sketch of his ideas for The Golden Age. He had to temper his enthusiasm for this new venture with the promise that Cleopatra had not been forgotten. He also once again told his patron he was in financial difficulty and in danger of debtor’s prison and asked for a loan of £300. Gibbons gave Danby more money and agreed to take the finished Golden Age painting.

Boy Fishing, Stapleton by Francis Danby (1823)

Despite the money, Danby’s life became even more problematic and turbulent. It was anxious times on two fronts for Danby as he had both financial and marital problems to contend with. Despite selling his paintings he was continually asking his patron John Gibbons for money to pay off his debts which were mounting. In December 1829 Danby left London for Paris in order to escape his creditors only returning briefly the following January to attend the funeral of his friend, the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Thomas Lawrence, but he had to make a hasty return to the French capital when his creditors were about to serve him with writs.

Conway Castle by Francis Danby

In June 1830, Danby with four of his seven children, moved to Bruges. He once again contacted John Gibbons expressing his parlous situation and also informing him that his marriage to his wife Hannah was at an end due to her infidelity with a Bristol artist, Paul Falconer Poole and her having also abandoned their children. In later letters to John Gibbons, Danby stated that he only married Hannah out of kindness and implied that she was already pregnant. He ended by saying that the marriage had resulted in a precarious and unhappy life.  Ironically, Danby was now living with his mistress, Ellen Evans, who would give him three more children.

The Deluge by Francis Danby (1840)

The last painting of Danby’s that I am showcasing is his monumental work, The Deluge, which he completed in 1840. It measures 285 x 452cms and is one of the largest works Danby ever painted. He had been away from England for eleven years, living in Europe but had, in 1839, returned to London. The subject of the painting could well have been chosen as to compete directly with his nemesis John Martin who had also exhibited two of his trilogy of Deluge themed paintings at the Royal Academy in 1840. Martin had decided to depict the story of the deluge in a number of paintings whereas Danby decided that the story should be depicted in a solitary work. The writer and critic William Makepeace Thackery wrote about the painting in in Fraser’s Magazine a literary journal published in London, praising Danby’s treatment of the subject, which he considered to be superior to  those by John Martin, Turner and even Poussin, :

“…He has painted the picture of “The Deluge”; we have before our eyes still the ark in the midst of the ruin floating calm and lonely, the great black cataracts of water pouring down, the mad rush of the miserable people clambering up the rocks…”

The painting which is now housed at Tate Britain, London is described by the Gallery as:

“…As well as such meteorological portents as lightning, a comet, and a blood-red setting sun, Danby has also extended his theme by the use of symbolic references to destruction, in particular the juxtaposition of the serpent and the drowning lion, and the angel weeping over the dead giant. This giant may have been included by Danby on account of the references to venerable giants and heroes that occur in Genesis vi, 4, at the beginning of the account of the Deluge…”

The background is believed to have been derived from the coast of Brittany, a place Danby is known to have visited in 1838. The picture also shows the effects of Danby’s three years stay in Paris, such as the rising pinnacle of figures struggling up the rocky promontory which could have been inspired by a similar compositional form of Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa and Poussin’s Deluge painting which we know he copied during visits to the Louvre in 1837.  The national press liked the work but the public were less impressed in comparison to the notable success he had had with his Opening of the Sixth Seal work.

Landscape near Clifton by Francis Danby (1823)

Danby remained in England for most of the rest of his life. He lived in London until 1842 and then moved to Kent. In 1846 he was living in Exmouth, Devon where he not only painted but enjoyed sailing and boat building. His ever-loyal patron John Gibbons died in August 1851 and in 1856 Francis Danby took a long lease on Shell House on the Maer. where he devoted time to boatbuilding. He constructed his yacht ‘Dragonfly’ on the Maer.  This boat was shipwrecked off the coast at Axmouth in 1860.  It is thought that his studio in Exmouth was just off Exeter Road where he would have had a good view of the river Exe. Francis Danby died at home on February 10th, 1861, aged 67. He was buried at St John -in-the-Wilderness at Withycombe, Exmouth.

Francis Danby. Part 1, the early days.

Francis Danby

My featured artist today is the Irish-born painter Francis Danby who was one of twins born in the small village of Killinick, just south of the county town of Wexford, on November 16th 1793. His father was James Danby, a small-time farmer, whose family had lived in the area since the 1730’s. James Danby had first married Susanna Harvey in 1762. She was the daughter of a Wexford vicar and the couple had two children, John Henry and James. His second marriage took place in 1781 when he married the Dubliner, Margaret Watson, who gave her husband three children, twins Thomas, who died young, and Francis as well as a daughter, Frances Olivia.

A View in County Wexford by Francis Danby (1813)                                                                                               A View in County Wexford (Saint Nicholas’ Clonmines and Bannow Bay)

In 1798, at the age of five, Francis and his family suffered the emotions and terrors associated with the Wexford Rebellion which has gone down in Irish history as one of the most bloody, the most bitterest and yet the most successful insurrections. It began in May 1798 and lasted a month. It was the Society of United Irishmen’s Rising against the British domination of Ireland. The leaders of the rebellion maintained that the rebellion was purely political and not an issue of religion but some of the bloody massacres which occurred did indicate sectarian tensions as motives. There was also the factor that grain prices had collapsed in 1797 and 1798, and also new taxes were being levied by the British government on the malt industry which caused tremendous hardship in many regions, but especially Wexford. The rebels fought for a reform of legislature and the redistribution of political power.

As a protestant and feeling unsafe in the small village of Killinick, James moved his family to the city of Wexford in 1799. He wrote to a friend:

“…My family like many others were destroyed by political and party feeling, many of them lost their lives on both sides of the unhappy question…”

Francis Danby’s father’s fear for his and his family’s lives is borne out with the wording of the preface to his will which he made the following year:

“…Having lately escaped assassination and being convinced of the savage disposition of the majority of people, I am more than ever reminded of the uncertainty of life…”

Panorama of the Coast at Sunset by Francis Danby (1813)

In late 1799, the family were once again on the move. This time they travelled to Dublin, the home town of Francis’ mother. In 1807 James Danby died and through the vagaries of the inheritance laws, whatever money he had was left to the children of his first wife and Francis Danby received nought. Francis finished his schooling in 1811 and decided he wanted to become a professional artist. His mother considered his request and agreed to his ideas, since there seemed little hope in her son moving towards any other meaningful professions.

Conway Castle by Francis Danby

Francis Danby enrolled at the drawing schools of the Dublin Society and it was here he met and became great friends with two aspiring landscape painters, George Petrie and James Arthur O’Connor. In 1813, at the age of nineteen, Francis had his first painting, entitled Landscape – Evening, exhibited at the Society of Artists of Ireland and it was sold for fifteen guineas and with that princely sum Francis travelled to London in June 1813, along with Petrie and O’Connor, to see what the England capital had to offer young artists. Francis, like his two travelling companions, headed for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and he wrote about it and how it inspired him:

“…the wonders of which I was so struck that they increased my ambition, and from my twentieth year I have been an English Artist…”

It is thought that Francis Danby never returned to Ireland and he never declared any love for his birthplace. The journey of the three friends ended after two weeks when Petrie was summoned home from London by his father. Francis Danby and O’Connor had not managed to make any money whilst in London and decided that they too must return to Ireland. They knew a captain of a sailing packet who would give them free passage from the port of Bristol back to Ireland, so all three, who had very little money, set off to walk the hundred and twenty miles to the seaport.

The Avon Gorge from the Stop Gate below Sea Walls, pen and ink drawing by Francis Danby (1818)

They arrived and Petrie left them and returned to Ireland. Danby and O’Connor managed to sell two watercolour paintings of the Wicklow Mountains to a Bristol bookseller, John Mintorn and later they completed four drawings of the Avon Gorge which again they sold to Mintorn. They had now accumulated some money but it was not enough to buy two tickets on the boat to Ireland. Danby, knowing that his friend O’Connor, had four young orphaned sisters at home in Ireland, gave him the ticket.

The Eagle’s Nest, Killarney by Francis Danby

Francis Danby was now the only one of the three Irish travellers left in Bristol and was lodging at a baker’s shop on Redcliffe Hill, close to the River Avon. Danby was approached by his landlord, named Fry, who lived in Winscombe, Somerset, asking him to travel down from Bristol, stay with his son and paint some family portraits and this he did and it was during his stay at the home of the landlord’s son that he came across a young woman, Hannah Hardedge, who was one of the servants. Francis Danby was immediately attracted to this young woman and soon they were married. Danby described the lead up to the nuptials in a letter:

“…I was invited down to Somersetshire to paint some portraits amongst the farmers and drank cider. I took a great fancy to one of their servants, a little red-faced bare-footed wench, my Irish brogue I suppose was against me. I could not succeed however in any way but by promising to marry her. She, on the word of a young gentleman who was confoundedly out at the elbows, willingly consented to come with me to Bristol…”

“Out at the elbow” was a seventeenth century phrase meaning poverty stricken. The girl’s condition for going back to Bristol with Danby was on the understanding they would be married. The couple were married on July 4th 1814 at Winscombe parish church. In the parish register it was noted that Hannah was illiterate and she marked her name with a simple cross. Danby was twenty years old. The couple remained in Somerset at the home of her family and Danby rarely returned to Bristol. The first child the couple had was Francis James, who records show was baptised on August 13th 1815, followed eighteen months later by his brother, James, who was baptised on April 27th 1817. According to the Bristol Index, Francis Danby and his family left Somerset in 1817 and moved back to Bristol, staying at 21 Paul Street, Kingsdown. In 1818, Danby and Henriette had a third child, another son, John. A year later, in 1819 the family moved to 9 Kingsdown Parade.

Francis Danby – The Upas, or Poison-Tree, in the Island of Java – painting by Francis Danby, (ca. 1820)

Francis Danby had concentrated on watercolour painting but in January 1820, he had his first oil painting shown in London at the British Institution. It was entitled The Upas or Poison Tree in the Island of Java. It was a large work measuring 169 x 235cms and he had started work on it in 1819. The subject of the painting, the Upas Tree, comes from the poem The Loves of the Plants by Erasmus Darwin. Part of the poem (lines 237-8 of canto III) describe the plant and its deadly properties:

“…There is a poison-tree in the island of Java, which is said by its effluvia to have depopulated the country for 12 or 14 miles round… With the juice of it the most poisonous arrows are prepared; and, to gain this, the condemned criminals are sent to the tree… to get the juice…and are pardoned if they bring back a certain quantity of poison. But…not one in four are said to return. Not only animals of all kinds… but all kinds of vegetables also are destroyed by the effluvia of the noxious tree…the face of the earth is quite barren and rocky intermixed only with the skeletons of men and animals, affording a scene of melancholy beyond what poets have described or painters have delineated…”

The fable about the tree and its deadly properties was based on the poisonous anchar tree. The tale was further embellished in an article which appeared in the London Magazine in December 1873, six years prior to Erasmus Darwin’s poem.

This submission to the British Institution was Danby’s entry to the London art scene. Sir Richard Redgrave, an English landscape artist, genre painter and administrator, was full of praise for Danby’s painting, saying:

“…a wonderful first attempt……..and to succeed in such a subject required a poetical mind, joined to powers of the highest order: no mere landscape painting, no mere imitation of Nature, would suffice to picture to us the gloomy horrors of this land of fear…”

Disappointed Love by Francis Danby (1821)

In 1821 Danby’s fourth son, Thomas, was born and this was also the year that Danby had his first painting accepted by the Royal Academy for their annual exhibition and it became one of his best-known works. It was entitled Disappointed Love. The depiction is of the dark recesses of the River Frome near Stapleton, a north-eastern suburb of Bristol. Stapleton was a favourite destination for Bristol-based artists, such as George Carmichael, Edward Rippingille and Edward Bird and all three had completed works depicting a girl seated alone in a wooded landscape. However it is considered that Danby’s work was far better than theirs.

The painting depicts a heartbroken young woman who has just been jilted. Her hands cover her face as she sits weeping on the bank of a lily pond surrounded by dark and murky woodland. The occasional small white flowers, dotted around, struggle to lift the dark green and browns of the undergrowth. This gloomy undergrowth mirrors the depressed mind of the young girl. Her long dark tresses hang down over her white dress. Beside her, we see her discarded bonnet, her scarlet shawl , a miniature portrait of her lover and other letters which she has not yet destroyed. Her sad figure dressed in white is reflected in the water and it almost seems that the water is drawing her to it so that she can end her life and her misery, in an Ophelia-like fashion. Floating on the surface of the pond are pieces of a letter which she has torn up and discarded. Eric Adams wrote a biography in 1973 on Francis Danby entitled Francis Danby: varieties of poetic landscape and he believes the model for the painting was a model at the Bristol Artists newly founded Life Academy. There was a lot of criticism of the painting, not so much for the poetical nature of the work but for its technical faults, in particular the lack of proportion of the plants in the foreground.

When the painting was put forward to the Royal Academy jurists to see if it should be allowed in to the 1821 Exhibition it was not wholly loved. An account of one of the jurist’s comments on seeing Danby’s painting was reported some twelve years later as:

“…An unknown artist about ten years ago sent a very badly painted picture for the exhibition. The committee laughed but were struck by “something” in it and gave it admission. The subject was this. It was a queer-coloured landscape and a strange doldrum figure of a girl was seated on a bank, leaning over a dingy duck-weed pool. Over the stagnant smeary green, lay scattered the fragments of a letter she had torn to pieces, and she seemed considering whether to plump herself in upon it. Now in this case, the Academicians judged by the same feelings that influence the public. There was more “touching” invention in that than in the nine-tenth of the best pictures exhibited there the last we do not know how many years. The artist is now eminent…”

It is a beautiful painting, full of pathos, and one cannot but feel sympathy for the young girl. It was for this reason that I was surprised to read an anecdote about this painting and the depiction of the girl. Apparently the Prime Minister at the time, Lord Palmerston, was being shown the painting by its owner, the wealthy Yorkshire cloth manufacturer, John Sheepshanks and commented that although he was impressed by the deep gloom of the scene, it was a shame that the girl was so ugly. Sheepshanks replied:

“..Yes, one feels that the sooner she drowns herself the better…”

With that unfeeling comment I will close the first part of my blog on Francis Danby !