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Friday, October 14, 2016

S.J. Lamorna Birch

January, Where Daffodils Lie Sleeping, Lamorna Birch.
(Don't expect dates attached to his work. When they number
upwards to twenty-thousand, that's highly unlikely.)
Have you ever stopped to make a count of exactly how many paintings you've done over the course of your lifetime? The answer to that probably depends on the length of the course of your lifetime--the longer, the less likely. My lifetime is now so lengthy it's unlikely I'll ever make such a listing, and even if I did I'm sure I'd leave out a good number, especially drawings. By any conservative estimate I'm guessing my painting count to be upwards to two or three hundred with that many more drawings (pencil portraits). To me, that sounds like a lot, but by the standards of some artists, far more dedicated, not to mention prolific than I, I'm pretty much a consummate slacker. I have, however, penned (as of today) exactly 2,264 items such as this during the past seven years...if that counts for anything. By comparison, the British painter, S.J. Lamorna Birch is said to have left behind when he died in 1955, some twenty-thousand paintings in watercolor and oils. Yes, you read that right TWENTY-THOUSAND. I have taken it upon myself to post images of all of them below (just kidding). Seriously, that number doesn't include miscellaneous items such as sketches, drawings, and preparatory works.
Birch at work on one of his 20,000 paintings.
In admiring Birch's work, perhaps one of the most amazing elements in his biography is that he was largely self-taught (except for a brief trek to Paris and a few months at the Académie Colarossi during 1895). Samuel John "Lamorna" Birch was born in 1869 in Egremont, Cheshire, (west-central) England, not far from the border with Wales. Birch first visited West Cornwall in the late 1880s and settled in the Lamorna Valley in 1892. He adopted the nickname, "‘Lamorna"’ in 1895 to distinguish himself from fellow artist Lionel Birch (an idea suggested by his good friend, Stanhope Forbes). He is regarded as something of a father figure of the later group of ‘Newlyn’ artists, which included Laura and Harold Knight, Alfred Munnings, Frank Gascoigne Heath, and Stanley Gardiner, known today as the Lamorna group.
The Rocks at Lamorna, S. J. Lamorna Birch
As a boy Samuel Birch moved to Manchester and later to Lancashire where he worked in a mill, painting at dawn and sunset. He was constantly torn between his love for art and fishing. In settling in Cornwall (southwest coast of England) Birch came under the influence of Stanhope Forbes, who was regarded as the greatest of the Newlyn School of artists, a group who settled in Newlyn because of the bright light and the relaxed atmosphere of the fishing village. Though nearly the same age as the early Newlyn artists, Birch lived apart from them in a house along the road to Lamorna. Lamorna provided Birch with an endless range of landscape subjects, especially because of his passionate interest in rivers as seen in his January, Where Daffodils Lie Sleeping (top). He set up a studio near the river at Lamorna, only half a mile from Lamorna Cove. He later moved to Flagstaff Cottage at the head of the bay. With his gregarious personality, Birch attracted a number of artists to the area, One of them, a young girl named Emily Vivian, wrote asking for art lessons. Birch later married her. They had two daughters.
Lamorna Cove, which Lamorna Birch painted dozens of times.
One of Birch's favorite painting sites was Lamorna Cove (above) which he painted from many different angles, seasons. and times of the day. Over the course of his lifetime, Birch exhibited quite widely--146 paintings at the Royal Academy and 287 at the Royal Society of Watercolor Artists alone. He was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1934. In Cornwall Birch was friendly with other artists, especially with the famous Laura Knight who often came to the Birch’s house with her artist husband, Harold. She liked to sketch Birch’s daughters, before they went to bed.
Snow, 1902, Lamorna Birch
Because of Birch's passion for fishing, heis sometimes referred to as the “The Fisherman Artist”. Each summer he and his wife went on a river-based holiday to Scotland or Austria. He was also an avid traveler, visiting New Zealand and Australia in 1937. In 1947, two paintings by Birch were presented by the people of Cornwall to Her Majesty the future Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of their marriage. When Lamorna Birch died in 1955, his obituary referred to him as "looking much younger than his years with the bright eyes and eager manner of a terrier."

Lamorna Birch and his Daughters, Laura Knight.
I don't know how long they posed for this, but Birch's
right arm must have gotten mighty tired.
Larger than life, even.


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