20 June - 12 Sept 2009, Penlee House Gallery & Museum, 'Brotherhood of the Palette'.
Painted in 1894 by which time Henry Meynell Rheam had been based in Newlyn for 4 years and was a well-established member of the artist’s colony. The following year he exhibited in the inaugural exhibition of the Newlyn Art Gallery. It is quite possible this work was part of that milestone exhibtion; on the verso there is an Exhibition label which states "No4. The Idler. Henry M Rheam RI. Newlyn, Penzance". A reviewer of that opening show noted, "Among the watercolour men who choose figure subjects Mr Rheam is conspicuous". Like his peer Walter Langley, Rheam was acknowledged as having a particular gift in watercolour, notably in the most challenging subject matter for the medium; figure painting.
The Idler is a fine example of the artist’s Newlyn work and adeptness in capturing the human form convincingly in this subtle medium. Later his subject matter and style became more pre-Raphaelite; although even the present work has none of the harsh social realism associated with many of his contemporaries. There is a gentility, youth and luxuriance to this painting that easily distinguishes it from the works of other Newlyn watercolourists such as Langley; rich wallpaper instead of bare plaster walls and a delicately observed blue dress rather than shawl and towser apron. An idle carefree moment instead of hard graft or grief.
The Idler was exhibited at the Penlee House Gallery & Museum, 'Brotherhood of the Palette' exhibition in summer 2009.