Albert Chevallier Tayler, RBC (British, 1862-1925) The letter

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Lot 122
Albert Chevallier Tayler, RBC
(British, 1862-1925)
The letter

Sold for £ 41,250 (US$ 55,236) inc. premium
Albert Chevallier Tayler, RBC (British, 1862-1925)
The letter
signed and dated 'A.CHEVALLIER TAYLER. 88' (lower left)
oil on canvas
39.5 x 50cm (15 9/16 x 19 11/16in).


  • By 1888, Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947) began to realize that the convivial Albert Chevallier Tayler, someone he described three years earlier as 'the best friend I know', had now found his métier. An early convert to the 'square brush' technique, popularly associated with the work of Henry Herbert La Thangue (1859-1929), Chevallier Tayler was, in his unsuccessful Royal Academy submission of 1885, 'just La Thangue enough, but not too La Thangue' according to Forbes.

    The confidence that emerged three years later was the result of two factors. The first was an extended painting expedition with Blandford Fletcher (1858-1936) in 1886, when Chevallier Tayler left Newlyn to work in the villages of Berkshire. The second, arguably more significant experience, was that of a trip to Venice, sponsored in 1887 by the dealer, Arthur Tooth. On this second trip, far from painting familiar tourist views of the bacino di San Marco, Chevallier Tayler produced a number of carefully conceived genre scenes such as the Venetian Vegetable Market, 1887 (fig 1). These revealed a mastery in the treatment of form and the manipulation of space, that came directly from Fletcher, filtered through Venetian genre painters such as Eugène de Blaas (1843-1932), Ettore Tito (1859-1941), and Chevallier Tayler's British contemporary, Samuel Melton Fisher (1859-1939). Chevallier Tayler may well have heard of this international group from Frank Bramley (1857-1915) or William Logsdail (1859-1944), but his own direct experience was crucial. Back in Newlyn by February 1888, with the Academy success of Bless, O God, these gifts to our use, 1887 (unlocated) behind him, Forbes anticipated great things from his friend.

    Stagey composition and stiff treatment of the figures had been replaced by a suave naturalism. Chevallier Tayler's interiors were now inhabited by gossiping girls sewing, preparing a wedding dress, or as in the present instance, seated alone at a writing bureau. One of the works from this sequence, possibly Tayler's New English Art Club picture, A Council of Three (fig 2) (sold in these rooms 23 January 2013 for £118,850), or the present example, particularly appealed to Forbes.

    The letter comes exactly at the moment when the Newlyn painters rose to prominence as an identifiable school, following the purchase of Bramley's A Hopeless Dawn by the Chantrey Trustees. Within a year, 'Newlyn' was being clearly identified as the location of some of the most advanced painting in Britain and referring specifically to works of the present type, Alice Meynell wrote that, 'it is in their studies of interiors no less than in their open air work that the [painters of the] Newlyn School prove their love of truth'. Bless, O God, these gifts ... she considered, was 'removed from the fictions of the studio' and such paintings showed 'all the delicate differences and subtle distances of the grey day on the surfaces of this room' (Alice Meynell, Newlyn, The Art Journal, 1889, p. 102). Meynell might almost invoke the Dutch masters in praising such works.

    Chevallier Tayler's probity is clearly evident in the present lot. Closely related to A Council of Three, it focuses on the writing bureau in the corner of the room. Above the desk is a model of a fishing smack – one of those registered in Penzance and moored at the Gwavas Slip, at Newlyn. Beside this on the wall is an undecipherable print, and beyond that, a brown curtain covering the window. The girl, who concentrates on her writing or drawing, is one of Chevallier Tayler's regular models, seen in The Yellow Ribbon (fig 3) and in his Royal Academy picture, A Dress Rehearsal, 1888, (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight) while the high-backed chair on which she sits, reappears in The House of Cards(fig 4).

    This formidable sequence marks Chevallier Tayler as one of the major talents in British painting of the 1880s, his success confirmed with The Departure of the Fishing Fleet, Boulogne, 1891 (Birmingham Art Gallery). When he 'folded his sketching umbrella' and stole silently 'up to Kensington' in 1895, it came as no surprise to Forbes, for Newlyn was losing ground to the 'London Impressionists' and Glasgow School painters. There is no doubt however, that for Chevallier Tayler, the year 1888 was a watershed and with paintings such as The letter, he achieved an exceptional lucidity that lifts late Victorian painting into direct comparison with that of Metsu and Terborch.

    We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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