Norman Garstin (1847 - 1926)

Lot 407: f - NORMAN GARSTIN 1847-1926


November 25, 2004
London, United Kingdom

More About this Item

Description: signed l.l.: NORMAN GARSTIN

oil on panel
Dimensions: 38 by 22 cm., 15 by 8 3/4 in.
Exhibited: Penzance, Newlyn Orion, Newlyn Art Gallery, Newlyn School, 1979, no. 102
Provenance: Professor and Mrs Irving Kreutz
Notes: Stanhope Forbes saw the arrival of Norman Garstin, in Newlyn in 1886 as a welcome and important addition to the colony of artists, not only for his renowned dry wit but also for his great intellect. Aged eighty Forbes recalled his first meeting with Garstin '... a certain distinguished looking Irishman whose delightful wit and fine artistic insight soon began to charm us' (Stanhope Forbes, typescript of a paper read in the Passmore Edwards Gallery, on the 9th June 1939, pg. 3).

Garstin's writings on art showed a well-developed sense of aesthetics, which is also shown in his subtle paintings and drawings which were usually made on small panels or pieces of paper. His art was more concerned with spacial arrangement and tonality than most of the other members of the Newlyn circle and the closest parallels can be found in the work of Whistler who Garstin's friend Forbes greatly disliked (not only for his approach to art but also for his friendship with his wife). Like Whistler and also Manet who he also admired, Garstin had learned much from study of Japanese art and this quality can be seen in the way he convincingly depicts depth and space in his compositions. He had a delightfully undogmatic theory about his art 'Well, my theory on painting is not to have a theory, painting is a purely personal matter; I don't know how differently people see nature, but certainly in passing through their consciousness it is bound to be transmitted to the world absolutely different. What we are chiefly interested in is less the thing depicted than the personality of the painter who did it.' (The Paperchase, 'The March Hare Interviews Norman Garstin', summer number, 1909, pg. 35)

Garstin was born in Ireland, the son of Colonel William Garstin who committed suicide after his wife contacted a severe muscular paralysis, when Norman was only a child. Norman was raised by his grandparents and schooled in Jersey. Painting was not Garstin's first profession and he wrote that after he concluded his studies he decided to become an engineer and lived with the professor of Queens College in Cork, but his weakness in mathematics prevented this career path. It was advised that he become an architect as his drawings were very proficient and he went to London and worked for a short time in an architect's office before realising that he had no real interest in the subject. After meeting an old friend who had returned from the diamond mines of South Africa, Garstin decided to set sail and make his fortune in 1872. In South Africa he spent some time mining and much time with Cecil Rhodes and also worked in the office of the Government Secretary. He also became the substitution editor of the Cape Times newspaper, before returning to Ireland in 1877 without the fortune he had planned to make. It was upon his return to his homeland that it was suggested to Garstin that he become a painter and with this in mind, he studied for a few years from 1778 in Antwerp under Charles Verlat. Here he met Frank Bramley, Fred Hall and William Logsdail. He then moved to Paris and studied in Carolus Duran's atelier between 1880 and 1883, before continuing on his restless journey to Italy (1884) and on to Morocco (1886) where he lived with Ion Perdicaris. After he tired of the exotic luxury of Morocco, Garstin returned to Britain, via Spain and moved to Cornwall in 1886, the same year he married. Both Mr and Mrs Garstin were active in the Newlyn Dramatic Society and a story is recorded of Garstin meeting George Bernard Shaw one day whilst he was on holiday in Cornwall, '... the following exchange took place 'Mr. Shaw I think you and I have several things in common', to which Shaw replied in a bored tone, 'Oh, is that so?' 'Yes, you see we are both fellow countrymen, and we are both great admirers of Bernard Shaw1' Thereafter they got on very well.' (Caroline Fox and Francis Greenacre, Painting in Newlyn 1880-1930, exhibition catalogue for Barbican Art Gallery, 1985, pg. 80)

Garstin was never rich and the family often struggled to make ends meet. In 1887 Forbes wrote to his mother about Garstin and his wife's finances 'They have £80 a year each which between them they manage somehow. It must be a tight squeeze, but old Garstin ought to sell a few of his pictures soon. He has like me just received a cheque from Aberdeen, but his is for £3 for 3 pictures.' (Caroline Fox, Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School, 1993, pg. 39) Garstin was greatly disappointed in 1889 when his wonderful painting The Rain it Raineth Every Day was rejected by Hanging Committee of the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. This was a large and impressive picture of figures on the seafront at Newlyn but remained unsold until it was finally given to a museum. The picture is now in the Penzance Museum and Art Gallery and considered to be one of the masterpieces of the Newlyn School. Caroline Fox has explained Garstin's lack of success (which now seems so difficult to understand) thus 'Garstin... created a great sense of space and depth using the simplest of means. It is not surprising, however, that to many Victorian patrons accustomed to highly finished academic paintings, Garstin's panels may have appeared as mere sketches and were therefore not saleable.' (ibid. Fox, pg. 38)

The 'Meadow' was an area of farmland above the village of Newlyn, high above the cliffs overlooking the sea. Many of the Newlyn artists painted here and Stanhope Forbes used the Meadow as the setting for several important works including After Work of 1915, in which a field-worker takes a moment after a long day to rest in the long grass and look out over the bay at the beauty of nature. Another painting depicting the Meadow is Forbes' The Hay Cart of 1903 which shows a family or workers and their laden cart moving downhill towards the same houses depicted in Garstin's Newlyn from The Meadow.
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