Monday, August 26, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Harold C. Harvey - Fishing by a woodland stream

Harold C. Harvey (1874-1941) 
Fishing by a woodland stream 
signed and dated 'HAROLD HARVEY. 06' (lower right) 
oil on canvas 
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.) 

No picture demonstrates Harold Harvey's petit maitresse more satisfactorily than Fishing by a woodland stream. By 1906 he was already a suave and stylish composer whose compass ranged across the spectrum of rural and coastal genre, particularly focusing on the activities of local children in west Cornwall. There may indeed be some memories of his own childhood in this, for of all the Newlyn painters, Harvey was the only one who was Cornish by birth. (For a fuller account of Harvey's career, see K. McConkey, P. Ridson and P. Sheppard, Harold Harvey, Painter of Cornwall, Glasgow, 2001). The son of a local bank cashier in Penzance he was notoriously reticent, compared with other members of the artists' colony, even though he exhibited widely. He had nevertheless spent two years in Paris, studying at the ateliers in the mid-nineties and his return was marked in 1897 by an ambitious canvas depicting a plough team having its lunch break, entitled The Dinner Hour (private collection). Almost immediately however he began to realize that works on a smaller scale were more marketable and although he occasionally scaled up to pictures such as The Pedlar in 1902, he was most comfortable working on a canvas no more than 20 x 24 inches.

Here in Fishing by a woodland stream, his command of space, scale and surface detail could be deployed to its greatest effect. Its sophisticated rural Naturalism, practised in Paris, may indeed be a riposte to Stanhope Forbes's The Convent, 1883 (private collection), which carried that same foreground motif of children fishing by a stream. In Harvey's case foreground grasses take the eye to the young fisherman - his figure artfully established in space by a shaft of sunlight that falls across the bank, just behind him, and above which the wooden footbridge takes us to two older girls who observe his efforts. The composition is perfectly balanced and the modeling of the peasant boy, wearing an over-large tam-o-shanter, common at the time, reveals the artist's consummate skill.

It is likely that the scene is set by the Trevaylor Stream, above Penzance, which flows down from the Penwith Moors through a wooded valley parallel to the Gear Hill road. A smaller related work, Swinging on the Gate (1906, private collection), in which the tam-o-shanter is worn by one of the girls, is likely to have been painted at the head of the stream where a glorious view of St Michael's Mount can be seen (Ridson, 2001, p. 137, no 64). The following year Harvey would return to Trevaylor Stream for a vivid study of the river in spate, flowing over rocks (Ibid., p. 59, illustrated).

Harvey's retiring personality has to some extent reduced his prominence among the Newlyn School painters. He effectively bridges the gap between the first and second generations in the colony, complementing Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes's fascination with 'childlore' (see lot 54) and anticipating the new influx led by Laura Knight (see lot 101) a year after the present canvas was painted. It is however the finesse of Fishing by a woodland stream that greatly appeals. Elsewhere in Harvey's work there are few settings so secluded, and the heady pursuits we find elsewhere - whiffling, wading and swinging on farm gates - are here exchanged for a moment of calm concentration as a boy places his homemade fishing line carefully into a stream.


Frank Bramley - Fireside Tales

Frank Bramley, R.A. (1857-1915) 
Fireside Tales 
signed and dated 'FRANK BRAMLEY/1896' (lower right) 
oil on canvas 
23 x 23¼ in. (58.4 x 59 cm.) 

In 1888 Frank Bramley took the Royal Academy by storm with his sombre depiction of A Hopeless Dawn (1888, Tate Britain). The picture was purchased by the Chantrey Bequest for the National Gallery of British Art, and with it, the Newlyn artists' colony in Cornwall became the centre of the London art world's attention. This dramatic scene set in a fisherman's cottage exemplified a new method of painting. Bramley was the proponent of a 'square brush' Naturalism more readily associated with European ateliers than English art schools. British painting was suddenly lifted out of its post-Pre-Raphaelite doldrums and, sharing the honours with Stanhope Forbes, Bramley was avant-garde. Although he would later return to outdoor scenes on the Newlyn quayside, the cottage interior represented in his Chantrey picture became a kind of signature subject, adopted by Edwin Harris, Norman Garstin, Walter Langley and other Newlyn artists. However none was so subtle in his observation of light and shade as Bramley.

During the next ten years, in paintings such as By the Light of the Fire, 1894 (private collection), Bramley continued to address what Claude Phillips described as 'his favourite motif and his favourite illumination' ('The Royal Academy', The Academy, 26 May 1894, p. 44). Now an Academy Associate, the artist sought new subjects for this familiar setting and in 1896 depicted 'While there is Life there is Hope', (fig. 1, 1896, Royal Academy Pictures, p. 104) described by Charles Hiatt as 'a group of rustics watch[ing] the progress of a sick animal with intense interest' ('Mr Frank Bramley ARA and his Work', The Magazine of Art, 1903, p. 58). For The Art Journal, the seeming triviality of the subject was more than compensated by 'sound painting' and an 'earnest attention to an arrangement of colours and tones' ('The Royal Academy, 1896', The Art Journal, 1896, p. 178).

The present picture, Fireside Tales, isolates the two left hand figures from this composition. While the circumstances surrounding the dismemberment remain obscure, the fact that the painting has been re-signed by the artist may indicate that he was dissatisfied with the Academy picture. (Speculation on this point tends to be confirmed by the apparent lack of retouching at the time when the present section was removed). Far from being a fragment, the figures function as a perfectly contained composition, with the elderly woman passing on her wisdom to the attentive girl by her side. The bond between the two women is strong and their stoicism is reinforced by the stories that come from glowing embers. The careful management of colour and tone observed by The Art Journal critic equally applies in the present picture.

A phlegmatic character, Bramley was serious-minded. Although he captained the Newlyn cricket team, he never participated in Newlyn theatricals and his Tory sympathies seem to have placed him at odds with Stanhope Forbes, his rival for leadership of the Newlyn School. He tackled monumental themes that evoked immediate sentiment, yet it is often in smaller works where the strain of performance is reduced, that the splendid lucidity of his handling is seen at its best. This is the case with Fireside Tales, a picture that marks the close of his years in Cornwall.


Sir Edward Aurelian Ridsdale (1864–1923) by Philip Edward Burne-Jones 1893

Caroline Starr Balestier (1862–1939), Mrs Rudyard Kipling by Philip Edward Burne-Jones


The Ladies

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Victorian Lady

Glyn Warren Philpot - Portrait of Ellen Borden Stevenson

Glyn Warren Philpot, R.A. (1884-1937)
Portrait of Ellen Borden Stevenson
signed 'Glyn Philpot' (lower left)
oil on canvas
32 x 24 in. (81.3 x 60.9 cm.) 

In the mid-1920s Glyn Philpot was at the height of his prestige. He had been elected Royal Academician in 1923, had staged a successful solo exhibition at the Grosvenor Galleries and been given a 'diplomatically sensitive' commission to paint the portrait of King Fouad I of Egypt (R. Gibson, 'Introduction', Glyn Philpot, 1884-1937, Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist, 1984 (exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, London), pp. 23-4). Other important commissions followed, including a portrait of the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, however it was in his more informal portraits that Philpot excelled, and the painter was extolled for his ability to interpret a personality. Contemporaries regarded him as a 'master craftsman' and as the early dependence on Charles Ricketts faded, it was, '...the influence of the great Spaniards...that has been more enduring, and...his work, especially in portraiture, has shown us how deep an impression his... studies of Spanish painting have made on his imagination and receptive mind' (G. Sheringham, 'Glyn Philpot: Master Craftsman', The Studio, LXXXVIII, 1924, p. 4).

Faced with the young American girl, Ellen Borden, clad in pale lemon trimmed with gauze, it was not surprising to find Philpot producing a modern 'infanta'. Her regal bearing declares the daughter of a prominent pioneer family in Chicago. Born in 1908, she was educated in England and at an East Coast finishing school, by which time she was an accomplished pianist and a trained mezzo-soprano. Her prominence was confirmed when was presented to King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace in 1926 and two years later, at the age of 20, she married an ambitious young lawyer, Adlai Stevenson II (1900-1965). He later became a government attorney and governor and during the thirties and forties they had homes in Washington and Chicago. However the strain on their marriage led to divorce in 1949 as Stevenson rose within the Democratic Party. In 1952, he secured the party's nomination for the presidential election of 1952, but lost to General Eisenhower. Although she congratulated him on his achievement, Ellen apparently voted Republican. In later years she maintained her profile in Chicago, setting up an arts centre in her home. She died in 1972.

Philpot's portrait shows Ellen prior to her marriage. Although she declared herself never in style, a newspaper reporter claimed that she might have been a fashion plate. It was this elegant young woman in her late teens who came to Philpot to be painted at a moment when following the death of Sargent, wealthy Americans were looking elsewhere in London to place their commissions. At this point, prior to his 'going modern', his star was in the ascendant. What he produced was nevertheless a study of commanding character that fully justified Sheringham's belief that Philpot's work was 'instinct with dignity: a product of his own mentality and attitude to life, and not, I believe, studied or sought'.


Dawn, Edmund Hodgson Smart

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ethel Walker - Vanessa, 1937

Ethel Walker (Scottish, 1861-1951), Vanessa, 1937, oil on canvas, 610 x 508 mm.
Vanessa Bell, who is shown in this portrait, was the sister of the writer Virginia Woolf and one of the founders of the circle known as Bloomsbury. Here she is placed in a domestic interior, possibly at Charleston in Sussex. Her gaze is directed away from the viewer, suggesting that we are intruding into her private space.
Bell’s willingness to experiment placed her in the forefront of the avant-garde. By contrast Walker worked in a more traditional style mainly producing portraits, flower pieces and seascapes. 

Charleston #Bloomsbury

Vanessa Bell