Art History: A Watercolor Artist You Should Know Of

Contemporary watermedia artist Stephen Quiller tells the story of The Glasgow Boys, particularly E.A. Walton and Joseph Crawhall, 19th-century painters who were influenced by the little-known, innovative Scottish watermedia painter, Arthur Melville.

Art History: A Watercolor Artist You Should Know Of
By Stephen Quiller

At the turn of the 19th century there was a watercolor movement in Scotland that was a best kept secret outside of that country as has been demonstrated by Arthur Melville’s paintings and working methods (see “On the Trail of a Master” in the July/August 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine). Moreover, there were many Scottish painters with whom Melville was closely associated. E.A. Walton, Joseph Crawhall, James Guthrie, John Lavery, Robert Weir Allen, William Kennedy, EA Hornel, George Henery, and Frank Brangwyn are among the many. These painters are in the group titled the “Glasgow Boys.” Melville was slightly older than the other painters. They looked up to him and he inspired them with his approach to life and his personality, as well as his working methods. All of these artists worked to some extent in watercolor. Many of these painters in turn influenced Melville, because of their travels and their exploration of watercolor painting applications. Melveill took trips with several of them and at times during his life lived in their close proximity. I have selected two painters among this group because they were close friends and because of the quality of their work: E.A. Walton and Joseph Crawhall.

E.A. Walton- (1860-1922) Joseph Crawhall (1861-1913)
E.A. Walton and Joseph Crawhall met and became friends while studying at Kings College in London. Walton had grown up in Newcastle on the Tyne, an industrial port on the North Sea. In June of 1881 Walton’s brother Richard moved to Newcastle to set up an architectural practice and to marry Crawhall’s sister Judith. For the next couple of years Crawhall, Walton and another painter and friend James Guthrie painted in various locations in this area while spending time with their families.

At this point I will divert my attention to a seemingly unrelated event in American art history although as you will see soon this occurrence will coincide with the rest of the story. One of my favorite American painters is Winslow Homer whose work I have studied extensively, and have been to some of the places where he lived and painted. What is interesting to note although there are no specific records of this, I feel positive that while these very young and impressionable painters were in Newcastle they met the great American watercolor painter Winslow Homer. In March of 1881 Homer set up a studio in Cullercoats, England and stayed there for twenty months. This is where he did the monumental series of paintings of fisherwomen positioned by the North Sea. In May of 1984 I took a pilgrimage to Cullercoats and actually found Homer’s studio and roamed the beach where he worked.

As it turns out his studio was not more than three or four miles from downtown Newcastle, and at that time he was sketching and painting daily along the North Sea shore. There is no doubt in my mind that these twenty-year old painters, Walton, Guthrie and Crawhall spent some time with him and saw his work.

Just before Homer came to England he was painting genre scenes of young boys sitting on fences or positioned by overturned boats or playing in schoolyards. Witness EA Walton’s painting The Herd Boy (1886, National Gallery of Scotland) He did this painting in 1886, synthesizes the subject matter of Homer’s while working in the watercolor methods influenced by Melville. By 1883 Melville had met the young artists and they actually lived and painted together the winter of 1883- 84 in Cockburnspath, Scotland. By this time Melville’s watercolor methods had matured and others in this group were playing with his methods. In the summer of 1887 Crawhall and Walton again lived with Melville in Sterling, Scotland and in 1889 traveled to Paris with him to see the “Exposition Universelle” and study the art that was being shown there.

In subsequent years Joseph Crawhall took painting expeditions to Spain and Morocco. In this region he did a series paintings of bullfight, animal and landscape scenes. (See painting Goats on Hillside- Tangier (1887, The Burrell Collection, watercolor heightened with body color.) Crawhall’s travels actually inspired Melville to explore similar subject matter in these locations. In fact Melville returned to Spain often from 1889 until the end of his life. Furthermore, Crawhall later became particularly well known for painting animals and birds. A few of these paintings explored an innovative use of body color (gouache) on linen canvas. In addition to Melville, Walton and Crawhall, the other artists listed above are worth studying. They were watercolor painters who were part of a watercolor movement that facilitated an evolution of water media.

PAINTERS MELVILLE HAS INFLUENCED
Melville had become friends as well as an inspiration and mentor to A.E. Walton, James Guthrie, Joseph Crawhall and many other Scottish painters. At certain times during his life he traveled and painted with them. He was known as “King Arthur” to this group because of his outgoing personality and because he was a bit older than the other painters. In fact during the winter of 1883- 84, influenced by Jules Bastien-LePage, this group took up residence in Cockburnspath, a sleep-fishing village by the North Sea. Here they painted the local people, village and landscape. At various times of his life he did painting excursions to Orkney, Scotland, and then to Spain and Tangiers with members of this group. He also went to Paris with Guthrie, Walton and John Singer Sargent in 1889 to witness Exposition Universelle and see the central exhibition space of French art.

In addition to the contemporary French painters he saw the northern symbolists Edward Munch, Ferdinand Hodler and James McNeil Whistler. He also experienced the Synthesis painters Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin. Because of this his paintings became increasingly abstract.

Melville had become friends as well as an inspiration and mentor to A.E. Walton, James Guthrie, Joseph Crawhall and many other Scottish painters. At certain times during his life he traveled and painted with them. He was known as “King Arthur” to this group because of his outgoing personality and because he was a bit older than the other painters. In fact during the winter of 1883-84, influenced by Jules Bastien-lepage, this group took up residence in Cockburnspath, a sleep-fishing village by the North Sea. Here they painted the local people, village and landscape. At various times of his life he did painting excursions to Orkney, Scotland, and then to Spain and Tangiers with members of this group. He also went to Paris with Guthrie, Walton and John Singer Sargent in 1889 to witness Exposition Universelle and see the central exhibition space of French art. In addition to the contemporary French painters he saw the northern symbolists Edward Munch, Ferdinand Hodler and James McNeil Whistler. He also experienced the Synthesis painters Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin. Because of this his paintings became increasingly abstract in the arrangement of shapes and more decorative and colorful in a painterly manner.

The last few years of his life he annually traveled to Spain. Some of his greatest work came from these travels when he painted bullfights and charming villages along the Atlantic. (Mediterranean Port, 1892, watercolor, 20×31, Glasgow Museums & Art Galleries, Kelvingrove)

Toward the end of his life he became quite well known. He sat on hanging committees with Sargent and Whistler and became friends with August Rodin. In 1890 he received the Gold Medal at the Munich Genossenschaft Annual. This exhibit was the greatest art focus outside of Paris. In 1899 Arthur Melville married Ethel Croll. He had painted her thirteen years earlier when she was a child. They had a daughter Marion. He spent the last four years of his life painting religious themes in oil and worked less in watercolor. In the summer of 1904 he and his wife traveled to Spain where he contacted typhoid. August 28 of that year he died much too young at forty-nine.

Melville: His Life, Inspirations & Influences
Needless to say, seeing his paintings changed my perspective. These paintings were pure genius. They were so contemporary and dissimilar from what was being done in English watercolor painting during his time. How did he arrive at these mature career works and what influences did he have to get him there? After years of study of his life I have discovered much of what led to the growth and evolution of his art.

By the mid 1880s Melville had the inspiration of the Hague School, the French Realists and Impressionists, and Jules Bastien-Lepage. He still had yet to absorb knowledge from the Synthesists, northern Symbolists and the Nabis school. In his mature work he was preoccupied with strong abstract shapes on the picture plane as well as a decorative quality and patterning in the image. He focused on conveying atmosphere and emotion through careful arrangement of colors. He was also working primarily in watercolor as opposed to oil. He stands as a rare master in this medium.

art magazine, artist magazine, artist's magazineRead more about Stephen Quiller’s discovery of  Arthur Melville in the July/August 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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