Oil on canvas, 24 x 19 inches, Signed by the artist
Norman Garstin 1847 – 1926
The Red Houses
Artist label verso with title and address at 4 Wellington Terrace, Penzance
Exhibited: Walker’s Galleries, London, April 1912, no. 39;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, ’Garstin, O’Kelly, Thaddeus and Friends’, Dublin,
Provenance: By family decent to James Terry, Lincoln
“He was also greatly impressed by the brightness and happiness of Manet’s
paintings, an influence that was to manifest itself in Garstin’s own work.”
When we wrote this introduction to Garstin in our 2001 catalogue, we were not
to know that we would have the opportunity to demonstrate the brightness and
happiness of Garstin’s own work with such a wonderful example.
Although the first impression may be that of a narrative painting, this is
essentially a study of light – the atmosphere portrayed in oil paint. This is
the ultimate test of an oil painter. Garstin shows no hint of struggle. With
gracious ease, he portrays the sparkling freshness experienced after a fall of
rain. We are reminded of his famous masterpiece, The Rain It Raineth Every Day,
which shows a windswept seafront in squally weather. Our scene is much more
serene. The rain has run off the roofs of the red houses and into the cobbled
drain. As the water is carried off, it reflects the white and red of the
Beguinage and the blue of the sky.
A cobbled walkway surrounds a stand of trees, offering shade to the small
square in front of the Beguinage. Dappled light fights it way through the trees
and dances on the walls of the buildings. Small patches of light radiate off
the ground, their effect enhanced by the shaded foreground. Pencil rays of
radiant sunlight strike the shoulder of the little girl and illuminate the
white collar of the nun’s habit.
Another version of the painting is in the Crawford Municipal Gallery in Cork.
The main variations are that the main figures have been moved towards the
foreground, a small child sweeps the fallen leaves and the felled logs have
been omitted. It is difficult to ignore the suggestion that this is an autumn
painting. This was the season in which Garstin produced his best work.
The history of the Beguinage is deep rooted. Founded in Gent in 1234 by Joanna
of Constantinople, the Beguinage Convent of St. Elizabeth housed an enclosed
order of nuns whose traditions have remained unchanged since the 17th century.
At the same time, a larger convent was founded but this was abandoned in 1874
for a new convent near St. Elizabeth’s Church. The keyhole doors and stark
contrast of red brick and whitewashed walls distinguish the architecture.
The painting is also reminiscent of Madonna Lilies, another of Garstin’s works
from the period, which shows two nuns emerging from an archway, possibly one of
the Gent convents.
Oil on canvas 30 x 25 inches. Signed by the artist and Inscribed verso with
Exhibited: Tulfarris, Blessington, 1982;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 1992;
Note: The artist’s label verso suggests that this work was exhibited in England
soon after it was painted. The label is numbered 313.
In the latter decades of the 19th century, the theme of a mother and child
engaged in various activities was often used as the focal point of a painting.
Aloysius O’Kelly produced one of the finest examples of this type in his
Concarneau painting Awaiting the Return.
Another regular subject was the gathering of firewood. In Autumn,
Garstin combines both topics and presents them with a stimulating and fresh
approach. The painting is a very good example of his ability to avoid the
pitfalls of over-sentimentality when presenting poignant subject matter. He
appears to manage this by isolating the mother and child from the gaze of the
The figures are carefully positioned in the left foreground where they set the
scale for the tall autumn trees that stretch towards the sky. The narrow path
that fades deep into the woodland enhances the perspective. The atmosphere is
described with a misty light that appears to drift along the path. With superb
colour harmony, radiant streams of sunlight explode through the branches to
lift the sobriety of the autumn hues. The entire composition is a lesson in
Oil on panel, 10 ½ x 8 inches. Signed by the artist
Artist's labels verso; Earthen Ware, N. Garstin, 4 Wellington Terrace,
'In the Estaminet' N. Garstin, Wellington Terrace, Penzance (obscured)
Provenance: The Fine Art Society, London;
John Chambers Collection;
Christies, Dublin, December 1992;
Private Collection, Dublin;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin
Exhibited: ‘The Irish Impressionists’, National Gallery of Ireland, 1984,
The Ulster Museum, Belfast, 1985;
‘Painting in Newlyn’, The Barbican Art Gallery, London, July 1985, no. 56
It might cause less confusion if this painting is referred to as Earthen Ware,
the original title given to the painting by Garstin, rather than Among the
Pots, a larger version now in the Plymouth City Art Gallery. Yet another
version is in the Exeter Museum. It is always interesting to compare the
differences between paintings that look identical at first glance. By and
large, the only constants here are the cobbled square, background buildings and
arrangement of pots. All of the figure groups have been changed. This gives an
interesting insight into Garstin’s methods. Another point of interest is the
horse in the background of the Plymouth painting. He was originally included in
our version, just in front of the covered cart, but was painted out. His ghost
Watercolour on paper, 12 x 9 inches. Signed by the artist
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 1993
Garstin was always at his best working on a small scale in the open air. This
drawing captures a scene played out by generations of young children, lost in
their own world at play by a riverbank. The two children in the foreground are
probably Althea and Crosbie Garstin. Their ages appear to be right for 1900 or
thereabouts. Garstin painted many other studies of his children, one of the
best examples being Mary Dolcie Althea, painted in 1898, which shows the
four year old girl with her head buried in a book. He liked to paint in
the countryside surrounding Newlyn and this study was probably painted on the
Newlyn or Lamorna rivers, which are straddled by small stone bridges similar to
the one shown here.
Sculptor at Work
Oil on canvas, 28 by 23 inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1917.
Provenance: Fine Art Society, London;
Sotheby's, London, September 1979, lot 9;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin
Exhibited: Royal Academy, London, 1917
In common with Red Houses, this interior of a sculptor's studio shows Garstin's
ability to use light and shadow rather than a complicated palette to create a
spellbinding scene. The benches, racks, tools and work in progress offer a
wonderful impression of the sculptor's routine while the geometric pattern of
the glazing bars and the trees and buildings beyond the window add interest for
Born in Cahirconlish, Co Limerick, Norman Garstin was the only child of an
Irish mother and Anglo-Irish father. His early career was wide and varied.
While studying at the Engineering College in Cork, it became apparent that he
had a great talent for drawing. To develop this gift, he went to London to
study architecture where he met an old friend who told him of the fortunes
being made in the diamond fields of South Africa. This led him to Kimberly
where he dug for diamonds for four years, sharing a tent with Cecil Rhodes. Had
he developed a partnership with Rhodes, his life would have taken a different
course; instead, that particular position fell to Alfred Beit and the De Beers
diamond company was born. Garstin moved to Capetown and founded the Cape Times
with another Limerick man, Frederick York St. Leger, an Anglican clergyman.
After a bad riding accident, in which he lost the sight of his right eye,
Garstin made another career change and turned his attention to art. He went to
Antwerp in 1878 where he studied under Charles Verlat. He moved to Paris and
for three years studied at the atelier of Carolus Duran. He became acquainted
with Degas, whom he regarded as a great master, and befriended many of the
artists who would later join him in Newlyn.
He settled in Cornwall in 1886 and became one of the founders of the Newlyn
School. He was very popular and was looked upon as the intellectual of the
group. Money was always tight and he supplemented his income by resurrecting
his journalistic skills and writing articles for 'The Studio'. He took private
pupils for tuition and organised painting trips to France and Holland.
Garstin’s output was relatively small when compared to other painters at
Newlyn. The scarcity of his work was not helped by the demolition of his studio
in the late 1950s to make way for a public car park in which many of his
paintings were lost. However, the few examples shown here demonstrate the great
variety found in his work.
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