Saturday, November 14, 2009

Myles Birket Foster - The Rows, Chester

Price Realized £6,875

signed with monogram (lower right) and inscribed 'Chester' (on the reverse)
pencil and watercolour heightened with touches of bodycolour
4¾ x 6 in. (21.1 x 15.2 cm.)

Myles Birket Forster was born in North Shields and moved to London as a child, becoming an apprentice wood engraver to Ebenezer Landells. Throughout the 1850s he taught himself to paint in watercolour and he turned to the medium seriously in 1859. Thereafter he exhibited some four hundred works at the Royal Watercolour Society and was elected an Associate and Full Member in 1860 and 1862, and achieved sell-out exhibitions at the Fine Art Society throughout his career.

Although well known for his Surrey paintings, particularly from the Godalming area, he also travelled widely, and painted the countryside along the Rhine, the Swiss lakes and in Italy, especially Venice.

After his death in 1899 the Dalziel Brothers recalled: Myles Birket Foster 'stands as one of England's most popular landscape draughtsmen and as a painter in water-colour of great distinction'. The Daily Graphic (26 December 1906) exclaimed 'Birket Foster produced something new - he was a tête d'école never approached by any other of his followers or rivals'.

The following typify his minute attention to detail on an intimate scale, revealing the grain in the wooden floorboards and the textures of the clothing worn by the figures. Lots 15 to 17 are a testament to Birket Foster's outstanding ability to master large scale compositions. Despite their impressive scale, all retain the same delicacy of detail characteristic of Birket Foster's style. He used a very fine brush with small amounts of paint and employs a stipple technique, especially on the flesh.

Chester's world-famous Rows are a unique system of continuous, covered walkways built into the fronts of the buildings at first-floor level. With shops on both levels, the Rows provide Chester's most distinctive architectural feature. This watercolour shows the interior of Bridge Street Row East looking north, together with part of the west side of Bridge Street. The tall building to the left has a medieval vaulted undercroft with a timber-framed structure above, its elaborate facade dated 1664. Beside it is a smaller seventeenth-century timber-framed building, while the two buildings to the right were replaced by a new structure in 1892.

We are grateful to Peter Boughton, of the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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