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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Norman Garstin

Norman Garstin, 1925, by Althea Garstin (his daughter), shortly before his death.
Seldom, if ever, have I painted out of doors. I have, however, sketched outside a few times and I used to take my children's art classes outside to draw several times a year. For the most part, they seemed to like it, at least for the first fifteen minutes or so, then they would sometimes get a little "antsy." Of course, one of the "goes with the territory" problems in planning outside art is the weather. I would always make sure I had a backup lesson plan in case of rain. Those of the "in plein air school," usually watercolorists now days, dread the threat of a little extra water in their colors, especially when it starts out a lovely day only to have clouds turn dark and the weather (and light) deteriorate as the hours pass. In fact, the natural changing of light caused by weather, or even just the passing of the daylight hours, has been a difficulty to be overcome since the first cave artist took to painting on the outside walls of his (or her) cave. Recently, though, I came upon an in plein air landscape artist who seems to have delighted in painting outside in the rain--Norman Garstin.

The Rain, It Raineth Every Day, 1889, Norman Garstin--the promenade in Penzance.
Notice the waves surmounting the sea wall.
A Steady Drizzle, 1889,
Norman Garstin
Garstin was Irish, born in 1847, in County Limerick (south-central Ireland). Apparently painting outside in the rain agreed with him, he lived to be seventy-nine. He studied at Victoria College on the Island of Jersey, completing his education in Antwerp. He initially trained to be an architect/engineer before moving to Paris and taking up painting. Later he traveled throughout Europe where he picked up a Continental flair for a very painterly, pseudo-Impressionist technique, but lacking the Impressionists knack for color. In 1886, Garstin and his new wife settled in Newlyn on the Cornish coast, becoming a part of the Newlyn School I wrote about a few days ago in covering the lives and times of the school's founders, Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes. Garstin's The Rain, It Raineth Every Day (above), dates from 1889 and captures as few other Newlyn artists dared, the turbulent weather and rough seas of this far western "tail" of the British Isles.

The Penzance Promenade today
(no sign of Gilbert or Sullivan or their 1879 comic opera, "Pirates of Penzance").
Moreover, it's one thing to brave the elements during the day in order to paint outside, but quite another to subject oneself to doing so at night, as seen in Garstin's A Steady Drizzle (above, right) from the same period. I think the phrase, "a glutton for punishment," might apply. Apparently 1889 must have been a stormy year. The photo above of the Penzance promenade today suggests he might have done well to wait until dryer weather. It's interesting to compare the photo with the drab painting of the same locale 125 years earlier. It would appear that Garstin set up his easel, hopefully with some kind of makeshift shelter, a little closer to the central block of waterfront buildings than did the photographer.

In the Shade, 1912, Norman Garstin
Red Houses, 1912, Norman Garstin
Garstin was not just a "rainy day" painter. His In the Shade (above) depicts the more pleasant summer atmosphere elsewhere along the waterfront while his Red Houses (left) from 1912 displays the charm of the Penzance and Newlyn communities (they're across a bay from one another) that brought artists from all over England, Europe, and even the United States to paint there each year during "the season."

Very often landscape painters can paint little else, but Norman Garstin was also a very adept portrait painter while also excelling at painting female figures in interior scenes (possibly when the weather outside was really frightful). His Woman Reading a Newspaper (bottom) from 1891, is likely an aunt while the two portraits directly below depict his sons, Denys Garstin (below, left) and Crosbie as a Baby (below right). Garstin and his wife had three children. Their sons both became journalists while their daughter, Althea (the youngest), became a painter like her father (top).

Denys Garstin, 1906,
(the younger son) 
Norman Garstin
Crosbie as a Baby, 1887, Norman Garstin

Woman Reading a Newspaper, 1891, Norman, Garstin


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