Acquired from a London Gallery in the 1960s - 1970s
Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, Autumn Exhibition 1885
This beautiful, sensitive painting depicts a young Cornish woman high above Newlyn, the sleepy village and Newlyn beach pictured below her. She is captured gazing across Mounts Bay to the ocean beyond; the contemporary Victorian audience are invited by such a painting to consider what might be consuming her thoughts, which given her location and focus is most likely loved-ones fishing far out at sea. The work is titled "A Summer Afternoon" in the artist’s hand on the verso – although considering the subject’s attire, it seems likely it was executed as summer fell into autumn. The painting was displayed in the Autumn Exhibition at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 1885, shortly after Harris was elected an Associate Member. This was an important venue for the artist throughout his career. Ten years earlier, Harris had taken a tentative step as an artist exhibiting in public for the first time at the RBSA, aged 21.
Edwin Harris had arrived in Newlyn close behind Walter Langley in 1883 after a reconnaissance trip in 1881. The two Birmingham artists were therefore the pioneers of what was to become the Newlyn colony and school of artists. A decade later the Magazine of Art put it succinctly; ‘It was Birmingham that first discovered Newlyn.’ The early ambition of the two artists was simply to find for themselves an English equivalent of their Breton retreats; as Langley said, what they had hoped would be their Pont Aven. But this ‘English Pont Aven’ was to grow rapidly into the country’s foremost artists’ colony in the late nineteenth century, with the swift addition of Stanhope Forbes, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Frank Bramley, Fred Hall, Frank Richards, Henry Scott Tuke, Chevalier Tayler, Elizabeth Armstrong and later Harold Harvey.
A Summer Afternoon demonstrates Edwin Harris’s supreme ability in capturing an intimate and sensitive portrayal of his human subject. As Roger Langley comments in ‘Edwin Harris. An Introduction to His Life and Art; 'what singles Harris out among his fellow Newlyners is his exceptional skill in portraiture.’ This blue eyed, red haired Cornish beauty was painted over 130 years ago but the humanity in her eyes is as clear and familiar today as it would have been to the contemporary audience. The exquisitely executed shawl demonstrates the artist’s mastery of the square brush technique so associated with the Newlyn School. The painting was likely commenced en plein-air and given its high level of finish, completed in the artist’s studio at Cliff Cottage in Newlyn.