Edited by Allison Symes
Images: by Graham MacLean unless otherwise stated
To conclude my art series, I thought I would finish with naming my favourite artists and sharing a little about each one with you. Comments about who your favourite artists are and why would be most welcome.
My favourite artists are John Constable, Edward Seago, and Trevor Chamberlain (a minor but much loved member of the famous Wapping Group. I am also very fond of John Singer Sargent, his fellow American, Winslow Homer, and the exotic Gauguin and Rousseau impressionists.
I have, during the often long, tortuous and frequently interrupted learning process that seems to be the lot of most amateur painters who never received any formal training (no bad thing in fact), probably developed a fairly pragmatic and unsophisticated approach to the thousands of paintings I have studied. Looking back this may in fact have helped me considerably.
Quite early in the unsupervised learning process with its endless “binnings”, I probably learned almost instinctively to identify the works that were the result of some degree of passion or subjectivity. I thought in my humble way that I might have in some small way been empathising with the long gone artist! You flatter yourself, Mr MacLean, many readers might think… oh well!
Conversely many of the internationally acclaimed such as Picasso simply produced numerous works purely for money, the early passion long gone. He famously was heard to have said to a wealthy collector who was enquiring quite rightly as to what the painting under discussion actually was or represented, his almost supercilious response was “Eighty million dollars – preferably cash!”
John Constable (1776-1837)
John Constable was the son of a mill owner who perhaps more than any of the others knew his subject intimately. His world was the Stour valley in Suffolk although he did venture south on occasion but was never comfortable. The sheer almost cosy warmth of his depiction first impressed me in 1948 and I have not changed. His works are in my humble view unsurpassed even by the likes of JMW Turner. He was an unsophisticated and loving husband and father who never learned the skills so necessary to get recognised and create a market for his work. He was never elected to the prestigious Royal Academy and died in penury brought on by worry and family commitments. He was an honest man but not a tough one. Once again so different to Turner.
Sir John Arnesby-Brown (1866-1955)
Unlike his mentor Constable, Arnesby-Brown came from a comfortably off family and was able to indulge his passion for what I call very English country life subjects. His works bear an uncanny likeness to his mentor’s but lacking that undefinable something. There is not the same sumptuous element.
Seago is my personal all time favourite and he was indeed an artist for all seasons in both the demanding medium of watercolour and oils alike. So good was he that he became a professional artists’ painter particularly in North America. He was a lifelong devotee of Constable and of course picked up the batten so to speak left by Arnsley-Brown.
He was of frail physique and suffered from a chronic heart condition from an early age. His father was a successful collier in Norfolk and was able to have Edward privately educated. His determination was such that he overcame all as well a progressively debilitating depression and taught himself entirely from observation. He was also able to become a war artist and his skill in this capacity was noticed by those who could influence his career. He became personal tutor to Prince Philip and Prince Charles also. A comfortable income allowed him to indulge his passion for painting in warmer climes, The Falkland Islands, and the Antarctic.
William Hogarth (1802-1877)
Hogarth was a trained print maker,painter,pictorial satirist and social critic. His works are more famous for the way he so accurately observes the social scene of the day particularly London-at all levels! He unflinchingly exposed politicians ,the so called aristocracy and even members of the royal household for what they really were. His wit and withering sarcasm and ability to lampoon almost everything and everyone makes him go down in history – nobody quite like him in fact.
He lived comfortably in Chiswick and his home is open to the public with numerous works on display. His talent was in his passion to expose.
Sir Peter Scott (1909-1989)
Scott’s passion was nature particularly birds and older folk may still have his marvellous dusk paintings featuring flighting geese and the like. I love such birds and painting either in the early morning or dusk. Stormy skies also.
Marianne North (1830-1890)
This woman of good family and more than comfortable means was something of a rebel with the constitution and determination to break away from the tedium and boredom of Sussex country life. She was well read and well connected with those who travelled. Her lot was to be a single person and she instinctively knew there was a fantastically varied and exotic world out there. She had the means to travel comfortably but always alone.
She planned her overseas travels well and always had the wherewithal to establish contact with people at consular level wherever she went. To see precisely the extent of her travels I thoroughly recommend a visit to her extensive collection in a rather quaint little period building within the grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Her paintings are rather on the small side but the sheer number of them is a monument in itself to her determination and ability to suffer considerable discomfort especially in Southern Asia and further south than that.
Paul Gaugin (1851-1903)
This French artist of distinctly pugilistic nature and forceful personality was after a shortish period of learning his craft determined to ultimately rebel against the art establishment in Paris. Gaugin was from a fairly prosperous family of stockbrokers and he himself did reasonably well as one. He married fairly young and there were five children. He was in turns a good husband and father and also an increasingly frustrated artist.
Quite suddenly he abandoned everything and made his way to French Micronesia. There he really let go in all senses of the word and produced almost sensuous and primitive paintings adopting a dramatic and bold method of composition and outrageous yet stimulating colour that he was both a shock and a sensation to the establishment back in Paris. I can look at his works time and time again and never get tired.
The trouble with this style is that a painter can quite quickly run out of subject matter. I have visited this part of the world as well as the more remote Pacific islands such as Truk, Ponape and the former Gilbert and Ellis Islands (Kiribati). There is nothing there! A good friend and retired barrister in Winchester who served as Crown Counsel there for several years will attest to that.
Gaugin attempted a reconciliation with his wife but could never settle back in France. His style was to become known as Fauvism (wild)
George Chinnery (Macao) (1774-1852)
Chinnery was an extremely gregarious and charming man who left the family home in the Fleet Street with some reasonably developed skill to seek his fortune in the better cities in India. He seemed to have done well and the expatriate community who were in the main well heeled did not quibble over quite high commission charges. They, particularly the ladies were bored and he was an excellent raconteur and endeavoured the occasional flirtation. He was by all accounts quite an ugly man and he says his wife was even more so.
In India he seemed to have developed an aversion to Mrs. Chinnery and he departed quite suddenly for Macao never to return. The reason I like Chinnery’s work is his ability to depict local life and indeed scenery in his own unique sketching style. Outstanding skill in fact which I still refer to from time to time. I don’t think anybody could perform to this level nowadays . He also made copious notes wherever he went in his own unique shorthand. Ultimately with Macao’s increasing prosperity and wealthy Chinese merchants making their home there he moved over to high paying portraiture. In his twilight years his style was copied by a number of skilled Chinese artists who did very well. HSBC Headquarters (HK) has its own library of his works.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
The brilliant, sensitive and increasingly deranged Dutchman of good family who took time to realise that his heart was not really into to being a Protestant priest in Belgium. Van Gogh painted acceptable but never high fee earning work in Northern Europe but was barely able to survive without the regular hand-outs from his brother Theo. Quite quickly he decided to make a break from the conventional and moved to Arles in the South of France and try again this time with the adoption of a radically different style. His style as it evolved showed the existence of a deeply troubled almost tortured soul. His paintings seen now are quite brilliant in execution and command almost outrageous prices at international auctions. They do indeed have a certain anguished quality about them which was never contrived. Some are in fact quite brilliant and exciting too.
Pieter Breughal (1525-1569)
This Flemish artist was essentially an artist of the people and his carefully observed paintings of day to day village and small town life are fantastic and give the observer an almost intimate view of how people lived out their lives then . The sheer numbers of people in all his paintings gives one a tremendous feeling of almost intimate warmth even the ones painted in the depths of winter!
I’ll finish by listing some of the art galleries I’ve enjoyed visiting.
Museums and Art Galleries visited
In no particular order I list below those places I have had the privilege of visiting over the years ：
The Southampton Art Gallery
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
The Courtauld Institute
The National Gallery
The Royal Academy
The Hermitage(St. Petersburg)
The Metropolitan-New York
The Paul Getty (L.A.)
The various Art galleries in Shanghai and Beijing
The principal Art galleries and museums in Tai Pei
The Macao Museum of Art
The permanent exhibitions of Chinese Paintings in Hong Kong