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ALBERT GOODWIN, R.W.S. (1845-1932)
Albert Goodwin enjoyed one of those long and uneventful lives which would be the lot of every good artist in an ideal world. He was born on 17 January 1845 at Maidstone, the seventh of his parents' eight children. A certain practical creativity, often rising to artistic talent, ran in the family. His father, Samuel Goodwin, was a builder, his uncle Thomas, an organ builder, and several of his brothers, nephews and cousins, not to mention his sister-in-law Kate Mallinson, were artists. On leaving school Albert was apprenticed to a local draper, but six months later he gave up his apprenticeship to paint. He was already under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, receiving encouragement and tuition from Arthur Hughes (1832-1915), who lived in Maidstone in the late 1850s. Goodwin himself dated their meeting to about 1861 but it probably took place a few years earlier, possibly as early as 1856 since he recalled circumstances relating to the painting of Hughes's April Love (Tate Britain), which was exhibited at the Royal Academy that year. Whatever the case, Goodwin always acknowledged a debt to Hughes, 'the most loveable' of the Pre-Raphaelites, and they remained close friends until Hughes's death in 1915.
In 1860, when he was still only fifteen, Goodwin himself exhibited for the first time at the Academy, showing a picture called Under the Hedge whose title alone vouches for its Pre-Raphaelite character. About the same time he was introduced by Hughes to Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) and became his pupil. Hughes's choice of a mentor for his young protégé with a marked predilection for landscape cannot have been accidental, for, of all the inner Pre-Raphaelite circle, Brown had shown the greatest interest in painting pure landscapes, as distinct from landscape backgrounds to figure subjects. Goodwin's relationship with Brown lasted for several years (as late as 1870, William Michael Rossetti referred to him as 'one of Mr Brown's pupils'), and during this period his work assumed many of the features of Brown's own work in this field: strong, prismatic colours, an emphasis on surface pattern rather than spacial depth, and a concern with atmosphere and poetic effect, often pushed to the point of wilful quaintness.
Given that Brown (who was notoriously touchy) and Ruskin (1819-1900) (who was often overbearing) had little use for each other or each other's opinions, there is a certain irony in the fact that Ruskin was to complete Goodwin's artistic education, to which Brown had already contributed so much. Goodwin seems to have met Ruskin about 1869, and in the spring of 1871 he stayed with him at Abingdon, painting some of Ruskin's favourite views in the area (see lots 1 and 2). That summer they were together again at Matlock, accompanied by the recently married Joan and Arthur Severn (1842-1931), and Goodwin produced more work for his patron. He also found himself helping the Severns to nurse Ruskin, who was seriously ill during the stay. But the climax of the friendship came the following year when Ruskin, anxious to gather material for future Slade lectures at Oxford, took Goodwin and the Severns on a three-month tour of Italy. It was Goodwin's first experience of places which he must have read about in Ruskin's books. The travellers went first to Basel and Geneva, where they studied Mont Blanc in the evening sunlight before proceeding to Annecy and Chambéry. Goodwin was never to forget this introduction to Alpine scenery, which remained for him a standard of beauty uneclipsed by anything he was to see on his later travels, however exotic. 'Will there be anything more wonderful than the Higher Alps in the Kingdom of Heaven?' he was to ask in his seventies. From Switzerland the party travelled, via Pisa, Lucca (see lot 9) and Florence, to Rome; they then turned north, visiting Assisi (see lot 14), Orvieto, Siena (see lot 10), Bologna, Perugia and Verona before ending on a high note in Venice (see lot 12).
After the turn of the century, the influence of Turner on Goodwin became dominant, and it must have been Ruskin, the master's arch-champion, who encouraged this development. Goodwin is that rare phenomenon, an artist who literally put into practice the programme that Ruskin, inspired by Turner, enunciated in Modern Painters. It is to Goodwin's credit that he realised that Ruskin was advocating the painstaking study of nature as an essential springboard for flights of imagination.
Goodwin exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1860 to 1920, and was an early supporter of the Dudley Gallery, which opened in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly in 1865 and specialised in watercolours by young 'aesthetic' painters. In 1871 he was elected to the Royal Watercolour Society, where he continued to exhibit until his death sixty-one years later. In addition to all this there were one-man exhibitions: eight at the Fine Art Society (1886-1907), three at Leggatt's (1912-22), two at the Rembrandt Gallery (1902, 1904) and others elsewhere.
We think of Goodwin mainly as a landscape painter, and he did indeed range far and wide in search of landscape themes, not only travelling extensively in Britain and Europe but visiting Egypt (1876) (see lots 36 and 37), India, (1895) (see lot 29), the West Indies (see lots 18 and 19) and North America (1902, 1912) and New Zealand (1917). But the poetic tendency which is present even in his 'purest' landscapes would often become dominant, leading him to use landscape as a basis for literary or Biblical themes in a manner that recalls John Martin or Francis Danby (see lots 92 to 94) for examples of this aspect of his work). Goodwin never outgrew the old concept of a hierarchy of subjects, in which a 'historical' picture stood a good deal higher than a landscape. He was also attracted to Biblical themes by his deeply religious nature.
Just as his literary pictures are now eclipsed by his landscapes, so we tend to forget that he worked extensively in oil (see lots 130 and 133). His best work, however, is undoubtedly in watercolour, which he preferred and which Ruskin advised him to stick to, realising that it suited his talent better and was the ideal medium for the evanescent and poetic effects at which he excelled. In fact, increasingly he tended to work in a mixed watercolour medium, combining wash with pen-and-ink, gouache, pastel and even oil, experimenting with coloured papers, and using all manner of unorthodox methods. 'Spent day indoors', he wrote in 1912, 'working up while memory is green the subjects that still...remain half done. The two sunsets...I found...far too heavy both in colour and tone - hammered at them with the blade of a safety-razor, a knife, sandpaper, sponge, rag and a fitch brush!!! So many are the expedients that the despairing watercolour painter...has to resort to'.
Like other salient characteristics - his powerful imagination exercised in the context of landscape, his fecundity, his restless travelling, his fondness for the Alps - Goodwin's innovative approach to technique looks back to Turner. Inseparable from his determination to indulge his 'inventive faculty', it also makes him an essentially 'modern' artist, much though he would have deplored the description. A.L. Baldry put the point with admirable simplicity when writing about him in the Studio in 1910. 'In all Mr. Goodwin's paintings the subject, as it is popularly understood, is of comparative unimportance; it is the way in which he deals with it that counts'.
The Diary of Albert Goodwin, R.W.S., 1883-1927, London (privately printed), 1934.
Hammond Smith, Albert Goodwin, R.W.S. 1845-1932, Leigh-on-Sea, 1977.
Chris Beetles (ed.), Albert Goodwin R.W.S. 1845-1932, London, 1986.
Christie's: sale catalogue; A Collection of Watercolours by Albert Goodwin, R.W.S., 5 November 1993.
Christie's: sale catalogue; The Fuller Collection of Victorian Landscape Watercolours, 7 April 2000.
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