Harold C. Harvey (1874-1941)
Harold C. Harvey (1874-1941)

The Bathers

Harold C. Harvey (1874-1941)
The Bathers
signed and dated 'Harold Harvey.1913.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
18 x 20 in. (45.7 x 50.9 cm.)
with Whitford & Hughes, London, 1986.
K. McConkey, P. Ridson and P. Sheppard, Harold Harvey, Painter of Cornwall, Bristol, 2001, p. 143, no. 174.
London, Whitford & Hughes, Silver Bells and Cockle Shells, 1986, no. 13, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

During the splendid summer of 1913 Harvey worked on what Norman Garstin described as the 'narrow rocky sea-battered land' of the Cornish coast, painting children basking in sunlight (N. Garstin, 'Preface', Spring Exhibition, 1902, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; quoted in M. Hardie (ed.), Artists in Newlyn and West Cornwall, 1880-1940, Bristol, 2009, p. 61). This land renowned for storms and shipwrecks was becalmed, and rock pools, some deep enough to bathe in, became a source of infinite curiosity for local water-babies. The pools were a microcosm of the wonders of the deep - cool and colourful - while on the hot granite tables of Carn Barges, flanking Lamorna Cove, one could gaze up at the sky, while drying off. In Harvey's arcadia, the busy fishing port of Newlyn, now the biggest in the region, was another world. It was tucked unseen, behind the headlands off to the left of The Bathers, the present picture. And in front of the boys, across the clear cobalt waters of Mount's Bay was the sunlit headland of Cudden Point, stretching away to the Lizard. In 1902 when Garstin asked himself why painters came here, the answer was simple - Newlyn provided conditions similar to those in Brittany where many had painted genre scenes on the quayside at Concarneau. But now, in 1913, the artists' haunt had changed and nearby Penzance, Harvey's birthplace, was becoming a genteel tourist resort. 'While still out of range of the crowd', Garstin noted in 1909, 'the luxurious travelling facilities provided nowadays by the railway company have popularized [west Cornwall] among people of moderate means' (N. Garstin, 'West Cornwall as a Sketching Ground', The Studio, vol. XLVII, 1909, pp. 109-110). Nevertheless, 'artists' for Garstin, 'are like rats...they seek water, and very much for the same reason, because they both manage to pick up a living more easily about the purlieus of harbours and wharves or by streams than in dry places' (Ibid, p. 113).
Yet other reasons now brought painters and writers to the Penwith Peninsula - not least the rugged landscape of monstrous rock formations that took on the shapes of armed knights and ancient queens. In this 'land of giants' - as Arthur Symons described the coves around Land's End - children were no more than sea urchins, and their society fascinated the painter (A. Symons, Cities, Sea-Coasts and Islands, Glasgow, 1918, p. 266, (from an essay published in The Saturday Review in 1905)). Harvey could hear them talk and watch them gingerly testing the water for A Quiet Paddle (1913, private collection), or resting after a swim in Sunbathers (private collection).

In producing these studies of children, the painter was not alone. In 1913, in convivial gatherings at Flagstaff Cottage, the home of Samuel John 'Lamorna' Birch, artists such as Alfred Munnings, Laura and Harold Knight and Frank Gascoigne Heath, would gather along with his wife, Gertrude and he. At this point Harvey was particularly close to Laura Knight, whose Daughters of the Sun (destroyed), had caused a sensation at the Royal Academy in 1911. This grand depiction of statuesque bathers would however, have had less appeal than works like Bathing (sold in these Rooms, 31 May 2012, lot 36) shown in 1912, in which the Heath girls lower themselves gently into a pool.

Both artists are likely to have been responding to international trends, evident in the sunlit beach scenes of Sorolla and the Tangier seascapes of Lavery. At the same time Harvey's pictures were smaller and more intimate. With The Bathers, as in A Quiet Paddle, the foreground child on the right, close to the picture plane, is used to lead the viewer into its space. Standing boys frame the scene on the left, as a fourth boy, the focal point of the composition, rolls up his trouser legs to test the water. Despite the recent tourist influxes these places were still secluded and childhood innocence preserved.


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