Edwin Harris, RBSA (British, 1855-1906) By the fireside

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Lot 4
Edwin Harris, RBSA
(British, 1855-1906)
By the fireside

£ 15,000 - 20,000
US$ 19,000 - 25,000
Edwin Harris, RBSA (British, 1855-1906)
By the fireside
signed 'E.Harris' (lower right)
oil on canvas
51.5 x 41cm (20 1/4 x 16 1/8in).

Footnotes

  • The arrival of Edwin Harris to Newlyn in 1881 with fellow Birmingham artist, Walter Langley, in many ways led to the graduation of Newlyn from a colony to a ’School‘. His central placing in the group photograph confirms his prominence in the early development of the School, due not simply to his early arrival, but more fundamentally, as Roger Langley puts, to the fact that his ’work encompasses all the signal characteristics of the Newlyn School at its core‘1.

    Harris began his artistic training at the Birmingham Art School and went on in 1880 to join his life long friend W. A. Breakespeare with fellow contemporaries Frank Bramley and W. J. Wainwright at Verlat’s Academy in Antwerp. From there he returned to Birmingham before eventually settling in Newlyn, after several visits, in 1883.

    Like so many of his contemporaries in Newlyn, Harris had previously spent time in Brittany amid the French style of rural realism that was so central to the Newlyn philosophy. His early genre works employ the characteristic square brush technique with exceptional skill, however it is his later portraiture that singles him out among his Newlyn contemporaries. His likenesses are imbued with a sense of touchable reality that allows the viewer an insight into the inner characteristic of the sitter, whether they were a Newlyn fisherman or Birmingham socialite.

    The following lots are fine examples of this skill as Harris portrays the ease of the sitters in their daily activity.

    In lot 5, the fisherman reads his newspaper by the fire and with the light of the nearby window. His repose immediately puts the viewer at ease, allowing you to sample the peace of the afternoon, the crackle of the fire and the rustle of the paper beneath the old man’s worn hands as he quietly takes in the world beyond his village. In lot 4, the old lady, away in a distant thought, sits with a book on her lap and a shawl around her shoulders. Harris, again, has chosen to show the red embers of the fire in the background, to emphasise the feeling of homely safety compared to the bombardment of the stormy weather that perhaps her son or husband is experiencing outside, and of whom perhaps she is thinking.

    The reading of the daily news has been used many times in the work of Newlyn artists. It was an important contact with the outside world for a village that was otherwise occupied with it’s own pursuits of employment and recreation. Stanhope Forbes portrayed this most effectively in his Royal Academy exhibit ’22nd January 1901‘ (Reading of the News of the Queen‘s death in a Cornish Village). The painting shows an intimate scene of three generations of one family reading the news of the death, not just of the Queen, but of the era they had lived and worked through. To the left the father is seen holding his three-year old son, reminding the viewer of the very different challenges facing the young generation as the prospect of a new century loomed. The scene offers a poignant reminder that the time for tranquil, simple village life was nearly at an end and that, however remote and unattached their community seemed to be, the outside world would always be close by to change it in an instant.

    1 Roger Langley, Edwin Harris (1855-1906) An Introduction to His Life and Art, Truran, Cornwall, 2008, p.5.
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