Description: EVERY ONE HIS OWN TALE
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112 by 179.5 cm., 44 by 70 in.
signed and dated l.l.: FRANK BRAMLEY/ 1885
oil on canvas
Royal Academy, 1885, no. 1030
Every One His Own Tale is a highly important rediscovery of a major painting by Bramley, a picture which captures the innovative spirit which was central to the Newlyn colony of painters in the later nineteenth century. It depicts an everyday scene in the lives of the local Cornish people, who are gathered around the fire of an inn to hear a tale of adventure and danger. Firelight glows in the sturdy iron hearth that has given warmth and comfort to generations of fishermen over the many years that the inn has stood on the Cornish coast. A young mariner, sprawled in his chair has put aside his cider to regale a spell-bound young fishergirl with his tales of the open sea. She is dressed in a white work apron and her sleeves are still rolled up from her work preparing the catch for market, but all thoughts of toil are forgotten as her imagination rushes out over the seas, inspired by the words of the young man. Her jovial grandfather, amused by her enthusiasm and familiar with the stories told by the younger members of the fleet, rests a loving hand onto hers is a gesture of pride and affection. There is no artifice to the poses and expressions of the figures and the setting is wholly naturalistic. It is likely that the subject was suggested to Bramley by witnessing a similar scene in one of the taverns of Newlyn as he conveyed the emotion and drama of the scene with a powerful realism. The models are without doubt locals, dressed in their work clothes and the artist probably made the sketches in the inn itself. This gives the picture an intensity which is made even more striking by the fact that this was the first major work by the artist and one of the earliest Newlyn paintings by any artist.
Before the 1850s Newyln was an area isolated by its inaccessibility and its community was small, but the opening of the railway in 1852 and Brunel's bridge at Saltash in 1859 brought people into the fishing villages and towns that lined the coast. Although artists had visited Cornwall frequently throughout the earlier nineteenth century, it was not until towards the end of the century, when artists sought to establish colonies, and artists began to settle for longer periods of time. One of the earliest artists to settle in Newlyn was Walter Langley who moved there in 1882, followed by Edwin Harris and William Wainwright a year later. Harris, Wainwright and Bramley had been friends at Verlat's academy in Antwerp and it was their suggestion that led to Bramley's arrival in 1884. Bramley had been living in Venice since visiting with William Logsdail in c.1882, but had been forced to leave by the particularly harsh winters which affected his health. Seeking a close community of artists similar to that established in Venice, Bramley was urged to move to Newlyn, where he took rooms on the top floor of a small cottage on the corner of Bellevue. Bramley's tiny studio comprised of a small working space and an even smaller room for sleeping above a shop run by a Mrs. Barrett who had lost both arms in an accident and combined her role as the proprietor of the grocery shop with looking after an army of noisy children. Under such trying circumstances Bramley was able to work, to the surprise and admiration of his fellow artists. 'All the Newlyn men were industrious and enthusiastic, but Frank Bramley yielded to none either in enthusiasm or industry. Hard work was the rule among the young painters, who, if they did not wholly scorn delights, certainly lived laborious days.' (Charles Hiatt, 'Mr. Frank Bramley, A.R.A., and his Work', in The Magazine of Art, 1901, p. 56).
By the 1880s Penzance was at the height of its prosperity with a bustling market and large fleet of pilchard and mackerel fishing boats heading out from Mounts Bay. In the summer months the fleets would be at sea for as much as three months, following the great shoals of herring far out into the North Sea. The fishing industry was harsh and dangerous and many of those who left their wives and children would never return to them. If and when they did return they were full of stories of he near-misses, freak storms, strange sea beasts and the shoals of fish they landed.
Every One His Own Tale was painted in a highly significant year for painting in Newlyn in the formative years of the colony, the year in which Langley and Bramley were joined in Newlyn by several other artists, among them Albert Chevallier Tayler, Percy Craft, Fred Hall and most significantly of all Alexander Stanhope Forbes. Forbes quickly became the leading painter of Newlyn but in 1885 he was still a newcomer to Cornwall and was yet to establish his reputation there. This was the year that he painted the picture that made his name, A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach (FIG 1. Plymouth Museums and Art Gallery) which was exhibited at the Royal Academy the same year as Every One His Own Tale. Forbes and Bramley were not close friends; Forbes found Bramley too retiring, but they shared a mutual admiration for each other's work. Forbes remarked in a letter to his mother after seeing Every One His Own Tale at the Academy, that he felt it was 'one of the best pictures' (Caroline Fox and Francis Greenacre, Painting in Newlyn 1880-1930, 1985, p. 74) in the whole exhibition.
The setting for the present painting is identical to that of Winter (FIG 2. Christie's, 9 March 1998, lot 12) with the same benches and iron hearth. It is likely that Winter was painted during the preparatory stages of work upon Every One His Own Tale although Bramley had secured a different model for his old mariner. This pleasant-faced mariner was also used for another of Bramley's more minor works Mending the Nets also of 1885 (Phillip's, 25 November 1997, lot 12) and may have been the model for Eyes and No Eyes of 1887 (Christie's, 20 June 1995, lot 35). The model for the young girl in Every One His Own Tale may have been the little blonde who posed for Ralph Todd's painting of 1885 Primrose Day (Penlee House Gallery, on loan from Newyln Art Gallery). Todd was also a recent arrival in Newlyn and the assumption that the two artists were friends is based upon them painting the same subject of a girl seated at a table arranging primroses. Appropriate models were shared between the community of artists and it would seem that the same girl appears in work by both.
At least two preliminany oil sketches for Every One His Own Tale are known, a small unfinished study of the girl and her grandfather (sold in these rooms, 2 June 2004, lot 10) and a study of the same dimensions of the story-teller (Sotheby's, Sussex, 22 October 1992, lot 361). These studies made from life show Bramley's working method of producing preliminary studies before work on the large canvas began.
The present picture predates Bramley's well-known Domino! by a year and the highly acclaimed A Hopeless Dawn (Tate Britain) by three years. The Hopeless Dawn, which depicts the tragedy befalling a fisherman's home after he is lost at sea, became so popular when it was exhibited in 1888 that it overshadowed the remainder of Bramley's oeuvre and his successes were always compared with that of this picture. His is rather unfortunate, as although the 1888 painting embodied the nineteenth century love of the melodramatic, Every One His Own Tale proves that he was capable on conveying a less mannered form of drama and sentiment which is now more appealing to modern eyes.
Every One His Own Tale is important not least because it was the first interior scene painted in oil by any of the Newlyn colony. It is painted with the robust naturalism and with the square-brush technique that became the hallmarks of the colony. Bramley was regarded as the chief exponent of the square brush technique and he continued to work in this manner well into the 1890s when other artists had abandoned the technique. 'The technique of the Newlyner is often thus roughly described: the ordinary, everyday artist, if he wants to paint a ship's mast against the sky, takes a brush, coming to a fine point, and draws it vertically up and down his canvas in the place desired. The Newlyner does nothing of the sort. He uses a squarer brush and gets his mast by a series of horizontal strokes, and of the practitioners of this technique Mr. Bramley is the easy first; indeed his strength and dexterity are marvellous. He has been called the Father of the Newlyn School.' (R. Jope-Slade, 'The Outsiders', in Black and White Handbook to the Royal Academy and New Gallery, 1893, p. 11)