The fisherman signed 'H.H.LATHANGUE.' (lower right) oil on canvas 40.5 x 29cm (15 15/16 x 11 7/16in).
PROVENANCE: Ex collection Sir James Roberts LL.D, circa 18901 Thence by descent to the present owner
La Thangue's head study of a fisherman was painted around the time when he and his new wife, Katherine, were moving from Rye to Horsey Mere in Norfolk in the first half of 1886.2 The buildings in the background are more likely to be those on the south coast. This places the study in close proximity to those of Polly (circa 1885-6, sold Bonhams London, 13 July 2011, lot 174) and A Portrait (Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne).
All three pictures exemplify the 'square brush' method for which La Thangue achieved renown in the mid-1880s. This was well defined by D.S. MacColl as 'a swaggering way of painting across forms, by a choppy rendering of planes, and by an attention to values at the expense of colour'.3 In the present case, there is no sacrifice of colour. On the contrary, La Thangue modernizes Hubert von Herkomer's 'Heads of the People' imagery of a decade earlier a visual sociology of working people which greatly appealed to Vincent van Gogh when illustrated in The Graphic.4 Yet in the present instance the fisherman's hat, a predecessor of the sou'wester, indicates that this 'old salt' comes from an even older, more picturesque generation. It was one that would achieve heroic status in the work of Stanhope Forbes and the painters of the Newlyn School, and one to which La Thangue would himself return in his large Academy-piece, A Mission to Seamen (1891, Castle Museum, Nottingham).
The present lot remained in La Thangue's collection at least until 1888 when it appears hanging on the wall in the background of his wife's portrait, A Gaslight Study alongside The Yeoman(circa 1886-7, unlocated).5 It was evidently one of his own favourite early works.
1Sir James Roberts (1848-1935), came from a dissenter family in the farming community near Haworth. As a twelve year old he walked barefoot across the moors to work at Titus Salt's mill at Saltaire, where his intelligence was recognized and he rose from the ranks to travel on behalf of the firm to Russia and the Americas. He became mill manager in 1903 and eventually bought out the company. He later retired to Sussex, but retained contact with west Yorkshire, purchasing the Bronte parsonage for the nation in 1928. He was one of a number of prominent businessmen from the Bradford area to collect works by La Thangue. 2Katherine Rietiker (1859-1941), known as Kate, was born in London to an immigrant family that originated in Zurich and prior to her marriage to La Thangue in 1885 she had worked as an actress and artist's model. 3DS MacColl, 'Professor Brown: Teacher and Painter', The Magazine of Art, 1894, p.403 ff. MacColl relates Brown's early work to that of 'brilliant students of his time - Mr La Thangue, Mr Clausen, Mr Stanhope Forbes ...' 4See Ronald Pickvance, English Influences on Vincent Van Gogh, 1974-5 (exhibition catalogue, Arts Council). Such head studies were adopted in the mid-eighties as set subjects for Art Union prizes. 5A Gaslight Study was exhibited at the first exhibition of the New Gallery in the spring of 1888.
We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McKonkey for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.