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Fred Hall 1860 - 1948

Photograph of a painting by Fred Hall.

Primrose Day
Oil on canvas, 24 x 17 inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1887
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2002

Fred Hall had established a Newlyn studio by 1885 following a visit there the previous year. The number of former associates he found working there would have encouraged him. It could be said that the Newlyn School was founded in Antwerp in the early 1880’s as the artists who formed the backbone of the group had formed friendships during their time in the Academy. Hall studied there under Verlat in 1882 and 1883 and developed a friendship with Norman Garstin. He shared lodgings with Walter Osborne. Fellow students at the Academy were Nathaniel Hill and Joseph Malachy Kavanagh.

The Academy had a profound effect on all who studied there. Charles Verlat, Professor of Painting from 1877 to 1883 built on the reputation already established over the preceding decades as a centre for history and genre painting. Although the father of English naturalist painting, George Clausen, spent only a brief period there, it had a lifelong effect on his style although his main influence, in common with those at Newlyn, emanated from the great French naturalist, Jules Bastien-Lepage. The Newlyn painters followed Lepage’s principles of painting in the open air and living amongst those who were the subject matter. Although he was looked upon as a figurehead, they were not prepared to portray the reality of rural life in the harsh manner of the master.

As a first generation Newlyn painting, Primrose Day is another great example of the portrayal of rural life in a remote English village. The painting almost certainly depicts Primrose Day, celebrated on the 19th April to commemorate Disraeli who regarded the flower as his favourite.

Stanhope Forbes, Ralph Todd and Frank Bramley also painted versions of the theme at about the same time. In Todd’s rendition, a girl of about the same age sits at a table and arranges a collection of primroses, which she takes from a basket on her lap. Bramley’s girl, in similar costume to ours, sits on a chair holding a posy of primroses, which she appears to have collected in her bonnet. In the same way, the young girl in our painting appears to be arranging a posy on her lap with primroses taken from a basket at her feet. The painting is set in a loft, similar to those converted by many of the artists for use as a studio. The bare floorboards, whitewashed walls and onions strung from a beam are found in many Newlyn paintings including Bramley’s version of our canvas.

Edward Stott 1859 – 1918

Photograph of a painting by Edward Stott.

Tin Whistle Player

Oil on canvas. 15 x 18 inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1884

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2008

The flat expanse of this landscape suggests that it was painted close to Stott’s home in Littleton, situated in the Vale of Evesham. The work is reminiscent of a number of paintings by Walter Osborne, who painted in the company of Stott in 1884 and 1885 in the small picturesque villages, which are scattered around this part of England. They were both attracted by the same type of subject matter, and the portrayal of children in rural settings was a common theme. In the preceding years, they had both come under the spell of Jules Bastien-Lepage while working in France.

The cattle grazing in the far distance, represented by small flecks of white paint, set the scale of the view, which is bordered by a line of trees on the horizon. Just in front of this, there is a final glimpse of the waterway as it snakes across the countryside. Immediately behind the boy, a family of ducks paddle about with their hatchlings. The young girl rests her arms on the gate as she listens to the boy’s tune. The children are dressed in their best cloths; the boy’s sun hat and the girl’s bonnet give them an older appearance. Stott pays much attention to the girl’s costume, and the detail of the decoration on the border of her apron. He depicts the highlights and shadows of her dress with great care. The wildflowers, which grow in the foreground, are a feature of many of his works.

Stott was born in Rochdale, near Manchester. He studied in Paris under Cabanel and Carolus-Duran. Besides Bastien-Lepage and the French rural naturalists, Jean-François Millet had a strong influence on his work, painted in a plein air style comparable to that of George Clausen and Henry Herbert La Thangue. He had a particular working method and did many drawings, mostly in pastel, in preparation for his oils.

William Banks Fortescue 1855 - 1924 

Ploughing Match, Cornwall
Oil on canvas 40 x 72 inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1891
Artist’s label verso with title and address at Paul, Cornwall
Exhibited: Royal Academy, London, 1891, number 253;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 2002;
Private collection, Warwickshire

William Banks Fortescue arrived in Newlyn in 1885 where he shared lodgings with Stanhope Forbes at Belle Vue, a house belonging to Mrs. Madden. The artistic community must have found the name irresistible. Fortescue had just returned from his travels through France and Italy on which he embarked following study in Paris. He must have felt very much at home in Newlyn as many of the residents there hailed from his native city of Birmingham. Chief amongst these was Walter Langley, one of the mainstays of the Newlyn School.

Fred Hall was also amongst the group who set up studios there in the same year. Norman Garstin arrived the following year and before long, an artist colony was firmly established. Many of the residents had the opportunity to renew friendships developed in similar colonies in France during the preceding years.

By 1890 Fortescue had moved a short distance south of Newlyn to the small village of Paul, whose 14th century granite tower is shown in the distance in our painting. Much of the energy of these artists revolved around the annual routine of producing a major work for the Royal Academy. Indeed, it could be said that the Newlyn School was founded on Forbes’s Academy masterwork of 1885, A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach. Each artist was inspired by the success of their contemporaries and one masterpiece led to another. Undoubtedly a work of genius, A Ploughing Match epitomizes daily life in the 19th century. It is a composition of great complexity, the scale and perspective of which could not have been more challenging. As the eye is led through the composition to the distant village, the viewer is stimulated by the discovery of many other teams and small groups, almost as far as the eye can see.

Further interest is gained by the high ground to the left, which is beautifully balanced by the windswept bush behind the main group of spectators. Further balance is found in the tonal range and colour harmony of the palette. The group of figures in the foreground, reminiscent of the work of Walter Osborne, delivers the main narrative of the composition. The plough team holds their attention as they make their turn. A bearded man points along the line of the furrow, which has just been ploughed. Competition is so intense that the only person distracted by a man selling apples is a small boy.

We can imagine the same scene repeated many times through the lines of spectators, spread along the headland as far as the eye can see. The ploughing match was a big occasion, which drew spectators of all ages from the surrounding towns and villages. We can tell from the sensitive handling of the gray and bay team in the foreground that Fortescue was a horse lover. He became a well-known figure in the villages as he rode about on a gray, not dissimilar to the one depicted here, with his easel strapped to his back.

Cowslip Gatherers
Oil on canvas 18 x 30 inches. Signed by the artist
 Exhibited: Royal Society of British Artists, 1884, number 310
 Provenance: Private collection, Stockholm

At first glance, the present painting could be mistaken for the work of Cotard-Dupré or one of the other French realists working in Normandy in the 1880s. However, the painting is part of a series of previously unrecognised works by Fortescue painted en plein air in Normandy in the first half of the 1880s. Most important amongst these is Potato Picker, painted in 1882, and probably the first in the series. It is very closely related to the current work and is typical of the French Realist’s depiction of the peasant at work.
 Flower gathering was a favourite topic of the period and Fortescue returns to it in works such as Picking Daffodils and Picking Flowers. However, this particular scene suggests that the flowers are being harvested on a commercial basis. Cowslip is an Old English name for the Primula Veris and derives from the fact that the plant thrived in meadows grazed by cattle. It flowers in May and is harvested only when the plants are in full bloom. There are a great many culinary, medicinal and cosmetic uses for the flowers, leafs, seeds and roots, and its powers as an herbal remedy were recognised in ancient times.
 Thérèse Cotard-Dupré was a third generation Realist whose approach to depicting the peasant at work was significantly different to that of Millet or Breton for example. Rather than portraying these workers as poor and downtrodden, she depicts them as proud and elegant, strong and healthy, and enthusiastically engrossed in their work. There is no suggestion that their tasks are menial, and the skill required to perform them is emphasised by the artist. The gloomy drudgery depicted by the first generation is now portrayed as a joyful occupation, which promotes for the viewer a strong feeling of nostalgia for the lifestyle of an era long since past.
 The present painting may be compared to Cotard-Dupré’s La Fenaison (mpfa 2004) where the foreground figure is prominently set against those in the background. This motif reminds the viewer of the scale of the harvest, not just locally but region by region; country by country and continent by continent. There are further similarities in the general ambiance of the scene and the landscape itself, both of which might have been set in the Valée de la Durdent, a fertile tract of land formed by the low rolling hills of Normandy.

A Fisherman’s Dwelling
Oil on canvas
, 18 x 14 inches. Signed by the artist
Artist’s label verso with title
and address at St. Ives, Cornwall 
Exhibited: Royal Society of Artists, Birmingham, 1923
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec.2004

The fisherman’s house is built around an open courtyard surrounded by a lean-to structure supported above massive timber posts, probably cut from shipwrecked masts. Much of the activity of the household appears to take place here. The fisherman’s wife toils over a large tub in which she washes clothes that are then hung to dry. The tub is filled from a distinctive pitcher, probably manufactured from local copper. Without creating a fussy painting, Fortescue notices details such as the white bib and tip of the cat’s tail, happily feeding on a plate of fish. The large terracotta jar in the foreground was probably used for curing fish with salt spread from the smaller container. The fish strung from the rafters has already been preserved and is hung under cover to dry, all in preparation for the winter months ahead. The fishing net has been taken from the harbour for repair. The theme of the painting is similar to a number of other Fortescue works of the period, for example Fisher Girl and Mending Nets.

Minnie Agnes Cohen 1864 – 1940

Photograph of a painting by Minnie Agnes Cohen.

Oil on canvas, 18 x 12 inches. Signed by the artist
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec.2004

Minnie Agnes Cohen was born in Eccles, Lancaster, in May 1864. Very few of her paintings have come to light but the recent rediscovery of one of her best works, At the Capstan Bars, caused quite a stir in the market. She worked in oil and watercolour and is also remembered for her exceptional pastels. The quality of her work is not surprising when we consider her training. She studied at the Royal Academy Schools in London and in Paris under Benjamin Constant, Puvis de Chavannes and Edouard Bordes. During her illustrious career, her work was hung in the most important Salons of London, Paris, Antwerp, The Hague, Rotterdam, Hanover, Berlin and Florence. These were mostly figurative works, many of which were painted in Holland in the picturesque fishing village of Katwyk, at the mouth of the Old Rhine. 

The resort was reached by means of a steam tram that ran through endless fields of brightly coloured tulips. A few miles back along the sandy beach is Scheveningen, where Hone did some fine work on the beach. Katwyk was an ideal painting ground and home to a number of artists. They were attracted there by the richness of the subject matter and the fine costume of the locals. As we can see from the current work, they wore many layers of clothing as protection from the harsh, unbroken west winds. Minnie Agnes enhances the study by attending to small detail such as the tie cords that hold down the wide brimmed hats. She indicates the strength of the breeze by the tie string on one of the aprons, blown out in a straight line. As was the case in Brittany, villagers could be identified by the style of their dress. The distinctive bonnets provided much needed protection from the harsh wind and from the sun. The wide brimmed hats appear to be worn by the older women. The clogs and heavy black stockings are typical of the dress of the fisherwomen and were undoubtedly worn for the warmth they provided.

The surf, whipped up by the strong breeze, merges with the white light of the horizon and contrasts strongly with the brooding, overcast sky. Reflections are skilfully handled, not only in the rivulet that runs down to the sea, but also in the wet sand. The solitary figure by the waterside forms a link for the eye that joins the three main parts of the composition and establishes the perspective for the various elements. Empty baskets suggest that the fisherwomen are waiting for the catch to be landed. The long narrow pennant flown from the masthead is typical of the fishing fleet that sailed off the Dutch coast. The hull and rigging can be compared to that shown in paintings by contemporaries such as Maris, Mesdag and Blommers.

Christopher Dean fl. 1895 – 1924

Photograph of a painting by Christopher Dean.

Dutch Girl Knitting by the Sea
Oil on canvas, 10 x 14 inches. Signed by the artist
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 2005

Christopher Dean was born in Glasgow and worked there before moving to Marlow, Buckinghamshire, in 1895. He is well documented as a black and white illustrator, but he also worked in watercolour and oil. In these times, many artists relied on work as illustrators for their daily bread. Yeats and O’Kelly spring immediately to mind.

Simon Houfe’s dictionary of illustrators has a comprehensive entry on Dean and his work. Good examples are also illustrated in the ‘Studio’ of 1898 and the winter edition of 1900. Clearly influenced by the Glasgow School, he developed a bold, unique style, which was a combination of Art Nouveau and Celtic inspired decoration.

He exhibited a number of works at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. Amongst these works were a Glasgow streetscape and a view of Glasgow Cathedral. A harbour scene indicates an attraction for coastal views such as the current work. The setting for this painting is a little unusual. The girl sits on a sturdy kitchen chair, the weight of which suggests that it has been carried only a short from her house to the seafront. She has also gone to the trouble of taking a cushion for her back and a footstool on which to rest her feet. These arrangements might suggest that she is engaged in an occupation similar to what we have seen in Grégoire’s works.

The style of her distinctive and appealing costume and her attractive lace bonnet indicate that she is a native of Volendam, a picturesque fishing village on the shore of the Zuider Zee, in the northwest of Holland. Above her lace bib, decorated with flowers, she wears a traditional neckband of large coral beads, closed at the front with a gold clasp. The edge of her skirt is finished with colourful embroidery.

Eleanor Gordon Cumming fl.c.1900 – 1920

Photograph of a painting by Eleanor Gordon-Cumming.

Springtime, Valley of the Oise
Oil on canvas, 18 x 30 inches. Signed by the artist
Title inscribed on artist’s label, verso
Additional title, verso:
Spring Time at Valmondois
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 2006

From the harvesting of apples in Calvados, we move a short distance to another orchard and another season. Artists are often at their best in springtime, their creative spirits rejuvenated after the long winter months. For many, an apple blossom scene signalled the start of a new year. This composition is a wonderful exercise in the study of light. Mottled shadows are cast by the branches of the apple tree as it stretches out across the path. Dressed in traditional costume, an old woman drives a small flock of sheep to pasture. They make their way along the narrow track, which winds down towards the river. The high bank of trees in the background appears to follow the line of the Oise as it twists through the valley.

There is a strong tradition of painting in Valmondois. Honore Daumier was a resident there, while Charles Francois Daubigny spent his childhood nearby at Auvers. He returned regularly and painted a scene on the Oise that shows the same high ground in the distance. One of his best known etchings, Claire de Lune, was also drawn at Valmondois. Theodore Rousseau and Maurice de Vlaminck also worked in the area.

The identity of the artist presents something of a mystery. The present painting appears to have been exhibited twice, yet no exhibition record has been found. According to the labels attached to a number of her works and the signature on the present painting, the artist had a triple barrelled surname with a hyphen before Gordon Cumming. Unfortunately, the first part of the name is illegible and it is this name which would have been used for exhibition records. A label on another painting states that the artist was the daughter of the Lion Hunter. This refers to Roualeyn Gordon Cumming of the Altyre clan. He had two daughters but it has not been possible to trace either of them. Other works that have come to light suggest that she worked at the turn of the century with the East Linton School, 20 miles east of Edinburgh.

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