I have just managed to catch up with Cornish Light at Nottingham’s Castle Museum – if you are reading this within four days of posting then you can just catch it otherwise a trip to Penlee House in Penzance between 20 June & 15 Sept. is required (and why not?!). I spent three years in Cornwall in my teens and twenties and have made numerous visits to West Penwith over the years so have a special affection for the place. But I thought I’d use Garstin’s The Rain It Raineth Every Day at the top of this post, not only because its a fine painting but it is an antidote to all those glorious views of the place that is only part of the Cornish experience. My recollection of winters in south Cornwall is that they were often wet, wet and wet!
Garstin is an interesting artist and this picture is probably the one he is known best for. Most of the artists who have ever lived are pretty much forgotten over time…a sobering thought for all of us! But he studied in Antwerp and Paris and its probably there that he spotted the Impressionists and it is their influence (and their admiration for Japanese art) that’s at work in this canvas. In particular I can’t think of this picture without thinking too of Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street;Rainy Day painted by that much underrated member of the Impressionists circle in 1877…just before Garstin arrived in the French capital. Did he see it? I’d like to think so…I can imagine myself as young Garstin thinking of working up the glistening promenade in similar vein to the cobbled street and deploying the formal shapes of the umbrella’s in much the same way as Caillebotte was attracted to them. It’s the way I like to think that we painters think – like magpies storing pictorial tropes and forms away for future usage.
This is a show easily overlooked…after all many of these painters though highly regarded in their heyday now only pop up mostly in the gloomy 19c galleries in our regional museums. In such circumstances jostled and hedged in with the Pre-Raphaelites, Academicians and such many of the works would be overlooked. Some are, in truth, of mainly academic or pleasurable interest only, but the best of them Walter Langley, Frank Bramley and of course, to my mind, the incomparable Stanhope Forbes here represented by a marvellous large painting, in which his Cornish light might be the leitmotif of the show, are wonderful works by artists, who – whilst not by that point at the cutting edge of contemporary art of their day – were at the top of their game.