The Property of a Gentleman
Francis Danby: A painter with ‘A tranquillity, a silence, a solitude which touches the soul’
‘What can we say in two words of this original painter, a poet to the very marrow in his bones, whose works bear the print of the uncommon genius?' Thus wrote the critic of Le Fédéral in reviewing Danby’s offerings at the Salon at the Musée Rath, Switzerland in 1835. Danby has traditionally been regarded as a Bristol School artist, in which he was an important and active participant.This association has sometimes led to his being regarded as a provincial British artist somehow separate from the wider European context. In reality he was steeped in the European Romantic tradition, looked to the European Schools for his inspiration and spent nearly a decade living in France and Switzerland between 1829 and 1838.
Danby responded to the work of the Old Masters, including Poussin, Claude and Ruysdael, as well as to his European contemporaries including Géricault, whose Romantic masterpiece of 1819, The Raft of the Medusa (Louvre, Paris) directly influenced Danby’s The Deluge, 1840 (Tate, London), Caspar David Friedrich and Johan Christian Dahl.
Danby’s reputation was cemented when Sir Thomas Lawrence purchased Sunset at sea after a storm in 1824 and the following year he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. In 1828 William Beckford purchased, for 500 guineas, his Attempt to Illustrate the Opening of the Sixth Seal, which had created a sensation when it was shown at the Royal Academy.
In 1829 however, he just missed being elected a full member of Royal Academy, losing by one vote to John Constable. It seems that this event coupled with the breakdown of his marriage encouraged the artist to leave England for the continent. This move seemed to have benefitted his career and his work was as well received in both France and Switzerland as it had been in England. The 1835 Le Fédéral critic wrote of his Norwegian Lake ‘so beautifully is it painted; so simple and tranquil is its poetry that none of the great masters would disclaim it’. Twenty years later, when The evening sun was exhibited at the Paris International Exhibition in 1855, it created a sensation. Théophile Gautier wrote ‘one cannot imagine the poetic effect of this subject: there is in this canvas a solitude, a silence which touches the soul’. (L. Stainton, The Burlington Magazine, 131, no. 1032, March 1989, pp. 233-4).
Danby's work is characterised by a fascination with the interplay and effects of light on landscape. The time he spent exploring and sketching in the countryside around Bristol and subsequently in Norway, France and Switzerland allowed him fully to explore its myriad effects.
The present group of oil sketches, the majority on paper, demonstrates Danby’s extraordinary ability to distil his meticulous on-the-spot sketches into more carefully worked up studio works.