No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis
'... sunlight is breaking through ...': Modern British Paintings in the Forbes Collection
Art, by the end of the Victorian era, became an international commodity, traded across frontiers, purchased either by newly rich industrialists or the cities which they created. It was placed on display in world fairs, international exhibitions, dealers' emporia and municipal art galleries, as well as national academies. Self-made collectors, active in the 1880s, wanted to see contemporary British art in comparison with the best of European and American painting. Background and breeding meant that they favoured subject matter which was 'democratic', and drawn from everyday experience. We get an inkling of things to come when Edgar Degas in 1870, in a letter to James Tissot, identified the mill owners of Manchester who bought realist and naturalist pictures from William Agnew as the market of the future. These forward-looking individuals, with disposable capital, were searching out modern areas of collecting, and they were drawn to the new theatres of display. Art, as James McNeill Whistler observed was 'on the town'.
What effect did increasing internationalism in the art market have upon contemporary British painting? The evidence of radical overhaul in the late Victorian period is rooted in the dissatisfaction of students with standards of tuition in art schools. William Ernest Henley, editor of the Magazine of Art, castigated the Royal Academy Schools, declaring that 'its students …make haste ... to France, to learn not only how to paint and draw, but to forget as much as they can of the practice and theory acquired in its schools'. British art, represented by the annual exhibitions at the Royal Academy, was moribund. Younger painters wanted to do things differently. They arrived in Paris at a point when the fundamental character of European painting had begun to change. There was now, for the first time in the faithfully reproduce in foreign journals paintings from the annual Salons and national academies within days of their exhibition. This widespread dissemination of images by photo-mechanical means in illustrated newspapers raised standards of visual literacy among the bourgeoisie across national boundaries. In photography, long exposures using glass plates began to disappear. New hand-held cameras and celluloid film were being intoduced, so much so, that by the end of the century it was possible to talk about snapshots. Countries were now traversed by railways, and tourism was a phenomenon of growing importance.
In all of this Paris was, as Albert Wolff described it in 1886, 'the capital of art'. It had the largest art student population of any city in the world, attracting young would-be artists from Europe, Scandinavia, the United States and even Japan. In this mêlée, the British contingent was particularly strong. Its members, including George Clausen (lot 273), Henry Herbert La Thangue (lot 19), Edward Stott (lot 57) and Henry Scott Tuke (lot 23), registered at the ateliers and led a bohemian existence. When they had completed their training, these young artists drew differently, and they practiced the 'square brush' technique associated with the ateliers - a method quickly categorised by hostile critics and Academicians as 'French'. For La Thangue and Clausen, the art of the Paris Salon was a more potent exemplar than that of the Royal Academy. The consoling imagery of Jean-François Millet, a painter-peasant, had been scaled up by painters like Jules Bastien-Lepage and Léon Lhermitte. In objective, naturalistic renderings of contemporary rural life, Bastien-Lepage insisted upon the young painter discovering his own coin de terre. There was now a moral value associated with finding your own small stretch of country and painting it. Hence the establishment of artists' colonies, at first in France, at Grez-sur-Loing and Quimperlé, and then in Britain at Newlyn, Falmouth and other coastal towns.
Antagonism to this new painting was predictable. John Ruskin, increasingly at odds with the direction of British painting, penned reactionary diatribes attempting to re-state the values of the national school. While academicians sought to exclude French-trained painters from the Royal Academy, they in turn wanted to distinguish themselves from the Academy establishment. After heated debate and some misunderstanding, the New English Art Club opened its doors in April 1886. Critics at first were muted in their reactions, but when it became clear that this was not a one-off exhibition, and that its leaders, who thought of themselves as 'Anglo-French' painters, were here to stay, they rounded against the club and its members with predictable chauvinism. The 'National School' was 'in peril'.
The new painting which emerged, like La Thangue's Leaving Home (lot 19), played to the sensibilities of northern industrialists such as Isaac Smith, J.P., Mayor of Bradford. Smith already owned large canvases by Salon painters like Lhermitte and Edouard-Joseph Dantan. These were scenes of contemporary rural life in which the peasant was not romanticised. They portrayed actual conditions which could be verified. They were legible to a more socially responsive audience. However, even as the debate about art and national identity raged, its underlying assumptions gradually shifted towards impressionism. The Whistler followers who entered the New English in 1888 carried with them a mission to draw it closer to the French avant-garde, increasingly defined by the work of Monet and Degas. Sickert, recognizing that he was likely to be unpopular with its more conservative members, formed a splinter-group of ten painters, known as the London Impressionists, for a one-off exhibition in December 1889. Their work, in the words of the Times critic, 'flung down a challenge to the world', extending the language of plein-air painting to a more extreme form. This precipitated a more general discussion on the subject of Impressionism to which Edward Stott responded in 1893.
The occasion for this was the attack by Sir George Reid, President of the Royal Scottish Academy, on the work of the members of the Glasgow School who were acquiring an international reputation. To his dismay, young painters like Lavery were being fêted in London, at the Grosvenor Gallery, in Munich and at the Salon. The Art Journal invited painters to respond, and Stott declared that he was less interested in technicalities than in the fact that Impressionism should reveal 'the painter's personality'. In other words, rather as Matisse insisted upon the veracity of his 'impression' as opposed to some external 'objective' view of the subject, such as might be derived from photography, Stott believed that the painter should concentrate upon what he uniquely took from the scene. In works like On a Summer Afternoon (lot 57) he produced a highly personal synthesis which drew extravagant praise from the Francophile George Moore when it was shown at the New English in the spring of 1892. Moore wrote that 'sunlight is breaking through the branches, and one bright drop falls on the white flesh of the boy sitting on the grass ... it would be difficult to praise ... too highly ... the silvery bloom of the atmosphere'. Moore went on in other writings to develop this central impressionist idea of the painter providing an atmospheric envelope in which the action of the picture takes place. The air itself was the medium through which things in the world are seen.
Sunlight, indeed sun worship, became one of the leitmotifs of this group of painters. There is an important social context here. Sun bathing, seen in such works as Henry Scott Tuke's Noonday Heat, 1903 (unlocated) and A Sun Worshipper, 1904, was regarded as efficacious, and sunburn, synonymous with health. Health, in turn, was associated with naturism on the one hand and the vigour of the British race on the other. In the early years of the century these were live issues in the public sphere. C.F. Masterman, writing on The Condition of England (1909), commented that 'no one today would seek in the ruined villages and dwindling population of the countryside the spirit of an England four-fifths of whose people have now crowded into cities'. The contrast with Tuke's major Academy canvas of 1908, Midsummer Morning (lot 23) could not be more extreme. The boys, exemplifying health and strength, reveal an innocent optimism that was lacking in La Thangue's stark rendering of the rural poor. They are fishing, but it is merely a pretext for a celebration of manly beauty set against the tranquil inshore waters of the Cornish coast.
In the representation of rural life artists like Stott, Clausen, Tuke and La Thangue evolved a mature, characteristically English, impressionism which addressed the eternal values and contemporary contradictions inherent in rural subject matter. These painters sprang from the world of Thomas Hardy's novels and the poetry of A.E. Housman. The impressionist language was co-opted for their picturings of dawns, dusks and daily struggles which carried the tropes of Englishness to foreign, colonial climes. Clausen, in contrast to Monet, was attuned to the tales of the ritualistic building of hayricks, and their occasional destruction in storms. Such customs and calamities were part of his daily life as a painter living in a village in Essex. Spending time in the company of old retainers like that in Little Brown Jug (lot 273), he could not have avoided such stories. Yet the unique emphasis upon atmospherics remained one of the essential hallmarks of British painting. It was in this spirit, just before the Great War, that Sickert hailed the work of La Thangue whose fresh landscapes no longer 'give us, ready-made, and over again, the gamut of Monet, or to be fin-de-dècade of Cèzanne'. The uniqueness of the vision which had emerged was sufficient unto itself.