Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Cult of the British Naturalists

A group of British artists of the nineteenth century hung out with the painters living in rural France. They were especially inspired by Jules Bastien-Lepage, who painted working people in real settings.

Painting by Stanhope Forbes
British painters Stanhope Forbes and Henry LaThangue (below) settled in the fishing community of Cornwall and formed what came to be known as the Newlyn School.

Photo of Henry LaThangue
A 1906 biography, quoting Forbes, describes the working principles of this group:

"To paint the picture entirely and absolutely out of doors, braving all difficulties, and relying in no way upon sketches or studies, with which, later on, the work could be comfortably finished within the walls of a studio—such was the creed to which they pledged themselves.

"Nature was to be respected and followed without question: to be blindly obeyed. Models might grumble and dislike having to sit in the street under the very eyes of the whole village, but the cult demanded it, and its exponents gave an example of self-sacrifice, for they spared themselves no trouble, and worked out their principles with admirable conscientiousness."

"'It may seem somewhat of a paradox, but I have often found the success of the picture to be in inverse ratio to the degree of comfort in which it has been produced. I scarcely like to advance the theory that painting is more successful when carried on in discomfort, and with everything conspiring to wreck it, for fear of rendering tenantless those comfortable studios the luxury of which my good friends in the Melbury Road and St. John’s Wood so much enjoy. At the same time, I do seriously think that there is a certain quality of deliberateness most valuable in painting, which is undoubtedly encouraged where the conditions of one's work are not over and above enjoyable.

Painting by Stanhope Forbes
"In his eagerness to get the work done, the painter is careful not to waste time or linger over the job, but to go straight at the mark and make every touch tell. I have never painted with such directness as on those fortunately rare occasions when I have worked at sea, and I have carried large pictures right through to the last touch in smithies, stable-sheds, and amid all sorts of queer surroundings under conditions which when starting seemed absolutely hopeless and prohibitive. It is much discussed whether it is better to work directly from Nature or to make innumerable studies or notes and paint the picture from them. I believe no rule can be laid down, and that it is entirely a matter of individual temperament.

"My own custom has always been to work as much as possible on the spot, and practice has taught me that this offers certain advantages over any other method. There is a quality of freshness most difficult of attainment by any other course, and which one is too apt to lose when the work is brought into the studio for completion."
Quotes from the 1906 book: Stanhope A. Forbes A.R.A., and Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes, A.R.W.S. by Mrs. Lionel Birch

More recent book with color reproductions: Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School

Online article: Henry Herbert La Thangue – the pictorial documenter of rural life


Rich said...

Wow! This is "plein air" in its full sense
("plein" in French, meaning "full";-)

Leaving one's "comfort zone", as the modern term suggests, for a rejuvenating experience.

Lou said...

To me his outdoor ethic is evident in the beautiful variation between light/shadow in his work. I hope to be fortunate enough to see some of his work in person one day.