Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 3.

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

Mental arithmetic
Mental Arithmetic by Thomas Gotch

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

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

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

Child Enthroned by Thomas Gotch

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

Alleluia by Thomas Gotch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Pageant of Childhood by Thomas Gotch (1899)

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

Postcard advertising auction of ‘Penwith’, Shottermill in 1906

Thomas Gotch’s House Penwith on sale in 1907

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

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The Dawn of Womanhood by Thomas Gotch (1900)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 2.

Thomas Cooper Gotch

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

A Golden Dream
A Golden Dream by Thomas Gotch

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

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The Misses Santley by Henry Tuke

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

Cornfields above Lamorna
Cornfields above Lamorna by Thomas Gotch

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

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

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

Death the Bride by Thomas Gotch (1912)

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

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

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

Portrait of Madame G by Thomas Gotch

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

Evening by Thomas Gotch

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

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

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

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

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

Looe
Looe by Thomas Gotch

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

…………………………………to be continued.

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 1.

Self Portrait with Two Square Brushes by Thomas Gotch

My featured artist today is the British painter, Thomas Cooper Gotch.  Little has been written about Thomas Gotch and in a way, he appears to be the forgotten man.  Part of the reason for this is that he was an unassuming man who preferred to take a step back rather than be in the limelight.  Another possible reason was that he never associated himself with painting “schools” and it is hard to compartmentalise his painting style.  In the pre-1890’s, his works were mainly depictions of open spaces, subdued in colour and yet full of detail, but then later came his more symbolist-style works.  Gotch was unhappy in the way some of his contemporaries painted only what would sell, or as he put it, they painted down to the level of the market, and further derided them by saying that they grew rich as tradesmen but following that path, they lost as artists.  Having said that, Gotch was aware that he had to survive financially and took on painting commissions, especially portraiture ones.  Once he had earned the money from a portraiture commission, he was happy to return to his Newlyn home, Wheal Betsy, overlooking Mount’s Bay and relax by working on one of his charming landscapes featuring local views of his beloved Cornwall.

xxFamily

Thomas Cooper Gotch, with the fair hair, sits on his maternal grandmother’s knee whilst his older brother John Alfred Gotch stands by the side of his mother.  The father stands at the back of the family group.

To fully understand the person, we need to look at his family and his early life.  Thomas Cooper Gotch was born on December 10th, 1854 in the Mission House, Kettering, in rural Northamptonshire, a landlocked county located in the southern part of the East Midlands region.  His parents were John Henry Gotch and Mary Anne Gale Gotch. He was the fourth surviving son of the couple.  His father, John Henry, and his father’s two brothers, John Davis Gotch and Frederick William Gotch had inherited the family wealth when their father passed in 1852.  The three men had been bequeathed two businesses, a family shoe and boot establishment which was subsequently managed by John Davis Gotch and the J.C. Gotch and Sons bank, managed by his father, John Henry Gotch.  The artist’s father, John Henry was well suited to run a bank as he was an exceptionally talented mathematician.  His younger brother Frederick William played no part in the family businesses and instead became a renowned Hebrew scholar and later was elected President of the Baptist Union.

 

A Cottage in a Garden

A Cottage in a Garden by Thomas Gotch

All was going well for the family businesses until 1857 when a combination of events led to a financial disaster for the family.  Firstly, 1857 was the year of a financial panic in the United States which resulted in the declining international economy and over-expansion of the domestic economy.  Due to the advance of telecommunications at the time, it meant that the world economy was also more interconnected, which also made the Panic of 1857 the first worldwide economic crisis.  Secondly, and more connected with the Gotch bank, John Henry Gotch had been authorising a number of unsecured financial loans, a number of which were given to the Rev. Allan Macpherson, the curate of Rothwell, without due diligence and with the downturn of 1857 the bank collapsed as did the shoemaking business under the terms of unlimited liability.  The bankruptcy meant that the brothers had to sell their Mission House and auction off most of the furnishings as well as selling the adjoining shoe factory to pay off creditors.  John Henry Gotch sadly realised that authorising so many loans without investigating the circumstances of the borrowers was his fault.

Ruby

Ruby by Thomas Gotch

Perhaps poking fun at the prevalence of red-headed women in Pre-Raphaelite art, an acquaintance bet Gotch that he could not paint a red-haired subject with red cheeks in red clothes. This painting of Ruby Bone, a local girl who would have been little over two years old when she sat for the portrait, was the artist’s response. The warm oranges and reds of the sitter’s hair and clothes are balanced against the dull green-grey of the background and off-white of her dress and buttons.

After the financial collapse of the two businesses, John Henry Gotch, along with his wife and family were now homeless and had to rely on the kindness of relatives, including his wife’s brother’s family, the Hepburns, for somewhere to stay.  In 1858 they managed to rent a house in Ilford, Essex and this is where his wife gave birth to a daughter, Jessie.  It took John Davis Gotch until 1863 to have the bankruptcy discharged thanks in the main to money that he borrowed from the Hepburns.  He then set about to revive the family shoemaking business and invited John Henry to join him.

The Lady in Gold - A Portrait of Mrs. John Crooke

The Lady in Gold.  A Portrait of Mrs John Crooke by Thomas Gotch

The present picture dates from the turning-point in Gotch’s career since it was painted in Newlyn early in 1891 and exhibited at the Royal Academy that summer, shortly before he made the visit to Florence which had such a dramatic effect on his style. The sitter’s husband had already commissioned Gotch to paint a small watercolour portrait of her, which was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1890.

Thomas Cooper Gotch attended the Church of England boarding school, Foy’s Academy in West Brompton and, along with his brother Alfred, was looked after during long weekends and school holidays by Thomas and Mary Ann Hepburn.  By 1863 the family’s financial problems had eased and Thomas Gotch along with his parents and four siblings returned to live together in Kettering.  Thomas Gotch remained at the Foy’s boarding school until 1869, aged nine.  He returned to live with his family in Kettering and attended the Kettering Grammar School where he was given an “A” for effort but struggled. He left school in 1872 and in March 1873 he began working at his father’s boot and shoe business.

The Orchard

The Orchard by Thomas Gotch (1887)

Working in the shoe and boot industry was not what Tom wanted but on the other hand he did not know what he wanted!  He had a hankering for writing and submitted a few of his stories to a publisher to be edited but there is no record of what was thought of his literary efforts but what we do know is that he continued writing stories throughout his life.  So, what made Thomas Cooper Gotch take up painting?  He never recorded his decision to take up painting in any of his diaries or writings so there is a mystery about what first led him towards an artistic career.  It is known that his mother, Mary Anne, enjoyed sketching and her sister, Sarah Gale had married John Frederick Herring Snr., an animal painter, sign maker and coachman in Victorian England.  It was also at the insistence of his mother that Thomas always took his painting paraphernalia with him when he went off on holiday.  Whatever happened, Thomas Gotch decided to follow the artistic path of life and in May 1876, aged 21, he applied to attend Heatherley’s Art School, one of the oldest independent art schools in London, submitting the required specimens of his work.  Attending Heatherley’s was a steppingstone to entering other art schools.  Whilst at Heatherley’s Thomas Gotch had his work critiqued by well-known practicing artists.

Rosalind

Rosalind by Thomas Gotch

Buoyed by the praise he received from the lecturers at Heatherley’s, Thomas Gotch applied to the Academy Schools and was taken aback when he was refused entry. A second application was also rejected and Thomas began to believe the training he had been receiving at Heatherley’s was at fault and so, in October 1877, accompanied by his friend Edward Laurie, he travelled to Antwerp where they enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where the Professor of Art was the Belgian painter and watercolourist, Charles Verlat.  It was not a happy time for Gotch who railed against the school’s endorsement of traditional subject matter and the use of a dark palette whilst he preferred brighter colours and a more decorative approach.  He commented on this to his long-standing friend and previous fellow Heatherley’s student, Jane Ross.  In his letter to her, he wrote:

“…Here we must do what we are told with as good as grace as we can and if we break the rules are reminded that we are only allowed in the school as a favour.  Each week, there is a fresh figure wheeled into the room and all who are drawing figures have obediently to draw that and nothing else…”

Clouds

Clouds by Thomas Gotch

At the end of February 1878, Thomas Gotch, having completed his painting and drawing examinations, decided to leave Antwerp.  He was disheartened by the experience and would have returned home but his brother Alfred joined him in the city and although he could not persuade his brother to stay at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he did persuade him to carry on with his art and return to London and resume his artistic studies at Heatherleys.  Thomas returned to Heatherleys at the end of March 1878 and also enrolled as a private student with the English portrait painter, Samuel Lawrence.  Following a number of arguments with the family he realised that to be financially independent he would have to become a successful artist.  During the summer of 1878 he set himself the task of completing a number of landscape paintings.  He and his artist student friend, John Smith, rented a small house in the village of Goring-on-Thames and set about painting scenes of the surrounding countryside and various farmyard scenes.  Thomas Gotch was accepted into the Slade School of Fine Art in October 1878 where he remained for two years.  His love of literature encouraged him and some of his fellow art students to form a Shakespeare Reading Society at which they would read the plays. 

……………………………………………..to be continued.

The Moonlight Pethers

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

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

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

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

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Moonlight Scene by Abraham Pether (c.1790)

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

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

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

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

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

God’s House Tower by Moonlight by Abraham Pether

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

A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting  by Abraham Pether

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venice by Moonlight
Venice by Moonlight by Henry Pether

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

Fishing by Moonlight by Sebastian Pether

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

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

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

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

See the source image
The Night Fishermen by Sebastian Pether (1920)

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

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

A truly sad ending to a great painter.

Harold Harvey

Harold Harvey

Harold Harvey (1874 – 1941)

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

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 .

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.