Although Newlyn artists took precedence at Royal Academy exhibitions following the purchase of Frank Bramley's A Hopeless Dawn, in 1888, an equally substantial artists' colony was thriving at nearby St Ives and a friendly rivalry existed between the two.S The small ports on either side of the peninsula, presented quite different aspects. Built on a steep incline facing the sea, Newlyn, flanked by Penzance, was tightly-knit and its artists clearly defined their 'brand'. St Ives, by contrast, with its splendid topography of rolling hills stretching south-eastwards towards Lelant, drew both marine and landscape painters to studios in and around the town.2 It was more cosmopolitan than Newlyn and attracted artists of international repute, even if their summer sojourns were brief.3 The Swedes, Anders Zorn and Emma Lvwstddt Chadwick, the Americans, Edward Emerson Simmons and Francis Chadwick and the Finnish painters, Heléne Schjerfbeck and Maria Wiik all worked at St Ives in the late 1880s. These expatriates augmented a contingent of British painters - Adrian and Marianne Stokes, Louis Grier, Julius Olsson, Moffat Lindner and others - who formed an art club in 1888 and established a club house two years later. Many had strong connections with the occupants of Wentworth Studios in Manresa Road, Chelsea which Llewellyn joined in 1886. Three years later Morley Roberts described him as an artist 'influenced by La Thangue and the French School whose work is always extremely dextrous in technique'.4
By the time William Llewellyn arrived in Cornwall around 1887 St Ives had become a popular art centre and his London colleagues such as Alfred East, Arnesby Brown, Frank Brangwyn and Frank Short were also visiting the west country. Llewellyn, like Alfred East, who made his first visit to Lelant in 1887, was attracted to the hilly landscape stretching from Hayle to Land's End in works such as The Goose Girl, 1887 (fig 1, sold Christie's 15 March 1985), while concurrently painting A Cornish Harbour, 1888 (Dunedin Art Gallery, New Zealand).5 Two years later he produced Padstow, Cornwall - Evening (fig 2, Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport).
The present canvas, clearly identified as St Ives, depicts the Smeaton Pier, prior to the construction of its extension with new lighthouse, begun in 1888 and completed in July 1890.6 A photograph of 1892 (fig 3) shows the pier as it survives today with the original Smeaton lighthouse of 1770 on the left, the focal point of the present work. The new lighthouse can be seen near the centre of the photograph. Since none of the later construction appears in The Harbour at St Ives an early date, c. 1887, can be proposed.7
In its handling, this misty view of the pier demonstrates great sensitivity, fully justifying The Times comment that Llewellyn was a 'delicate colourist' whose work was characterised by 'good manners'.8 The fluid, low toned paint film is carefully adjusted to give the sense of spatial depth, as the eye follows the rippling waves into the middle distance, observing pale sunbeams striking the sides of buildings and the Smeaton Lighthouse. Llewellyn was not a pupil of Whistler, but exhibiting at the Royal Society of British Artists during his presidency, he clearly felt the impact of his stylish 'pochade' paintings.9 However, if Morley Roberts is to be believed, and Llewellyn was truly a committed follower of La Thangue in the 1880s, as the painting of Padstow, Cornwall - Evening tends to confirm, then on stylistic grounds an early date for St Ives seems less likely. Sometime in the year leading to the exhibition of St Ives Pier, at the Royal Society of British Artists would seem more logical.10 Were this to be proven, it would suggest that the present canvas was worked from earlier sketches, or photographs or both.
Around 1890, St Ives painters such as Moffat Lindner and Louis Grier, perhaps realizing that Newlyn Naturalism was suffering from over-exposure, adopted Whistlerian effects.11 Grier, recalling the early meetings in his studio of the St Ives club, recalled that,
'On fine nights the large doors at the end of the studio would be opened, and then we had a series of nocturnes that would have merited the artistic appreciation of Mr Whistler. The lights of the incoming herring boats, the rippling waves dancing the lanterns reflections, and right in the foreground the wet scintillating sand made a scene of great beauty.'12
Looking at St Ives, it is impossible not to conclude that Llewellyn was present at such an occasion.
1 The focus of this was the annual cricket match which commenced in 1886 at which the 'Englishers' from Newlyn were beaten by the St Ives team.
2 A rail link from the London line at St Erith, constructed in 1877, greatly facilitated this process and led eventually to St Ives becoming a tourist resort.
3 The most important visitor, in the winter of 1883-4, was James McNeill Whistler who arrived with his pupils, Mortimer Menpes and Walter Sickert. Although he painted small panels and watercolours of great beauty at St Ives, Whistler did not produce a major canvas as a consequence of this trip.
4 Morley Roberts, 'A Colony of Artists', The Scottish Art Review, vol 2, 1889, p. 74.
5 This work is likely to represent the waterfront at St Ives.
6 John Smeaton (1724-1792) was one of the most celebrated eighteenth century civil engineers, responsible for the third Eddystone Lighthouse.
7 The dates of Llewellyn's visits to Cornwall in the late 1880s and 1890s remain uncertain and despite his ten year presidency of the Royal Academy (1928-1938), little research has been carried out on his work. He was born in Gloucester, (Anon, Obituary, The Times, 30 June 1941, p. 7; other sources give a birth date of 1858 and place of birth, Cirencester), the son of a Welsh engineer, and trained under Poynter at the Government Art Training School, South Kensington from 1881, and the atelier Julian under Fernand Cormon. He began to exhibit at the Academy in 1885 and showed for two years at the New English Art Club from 1887. In 1910 he was commissioned to paint the state portrait of Queen Mary (Royal Collection), and two years later was elected associate of the Academy, with full membership in 1920. He was knighted in 1918.
9 Llewellyn exhibited two scenes of St Ives at the Royal Society of British Artists in 1892, when the new pier was already in operation. It is possible, nevertheless that one of these St Ives Pier, (no 126) was the present work.
10 A framer's label on the reverse, dated 1892, tends to confirm the thesis that this is indeed an RSBA exhibit.
11 For Lindner's Moonlight, c. 1890, showing the extended pier and new lighthouse, see Kenneth McConkey, The New English, A History of the New English Art Club, 2006 (Royal Academy Publications), p. 57.
12 Louis Grier, 'A Painters' Club', The Studio, vol V, 1895, pp. 110-1.