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.


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