George Sheffield in DouglasSheffield came to Douglas, to Harold Tower about 1880 and, stayed about four years : his wife Miss Bridson once of the big house in front of the stone bridge : to a house with artist’s traditions : Edward Henry Corbould, historical painter, married to a daughter of Wilson its occupier lived in it : John Martin, historical painter, his son a son in law, also made it a home : an artist’s house, one of many romantic houses built in Douglas about 1840, on the bluff of the cliff, the toes of the trees among the shingle and rocks ; seaward the little head sheltered the creek ; townward the picture drawn by Watts for the Beauties of England and Wales in, 1804 ; subject also of many beautiful engravings and lithographs about 1840.

In Wilson’s time I, a little fellow, had the run of the place : saw thence those as yet unvisited parts of the town ; the tuscan tower on the red pier, the tree at the Peveril corner, the backs of Sand Street, at Saana and beyond bushes and trees of the country.

At the time Sheffield came, the picture had begun to change : the italian architecture, relic of late eighteenth century Douglas art, the earlier celtic condition, cliffs, trees, gorse, changing, disappearing as time passed : and with memories of the town as it remained in 1880 we look at his drawings to see his interpretation of its interest: the croak, fishing fleet, Douglas built schooners and barks, with their deformity their utter beauty ; quays, the attractive glamour about the places of trade ; notable houses of the old town, simple, subtle of proportion, whitewashed in front, elsewhere grey stone, big chamfers, clue to manx builder’s form:

Kewaigue, Union Mills, Baldwin, Onchan; farms and their trees ; bridges ; mills ; roads and their hedges: clouds of morning, clouds of evening, clouds of the north, clouds of the sea, manx clouds, low, broken, torn, fragments of vaster skies, of vastnesses revealed here hardly once, like Botticini’s mighty vault not once in a life time: those and all other localnesses ; the places’ character, spirit: fountains of refreshment for the artist, the limner’s justification of his art, art’s justification of itself: but there is nothing : he did not touch it.

Yet he was a realist ; the only one I have met: as such we recognised him at the School of Art : there we walked around our model, seeing it from all sides, above, below, touching it, gathering through our finger-tips what we might not discern with our eyes : ignoring colour in insistence upon surfaces : his mode of sight also, but, surfaces of colour : we learned the importance of an eagerly directed intention, formed groups, perceiving in knowledge of confidence, character, style : became post impressionists, cubists, unnamed venturists, twenty-five years before such experiments were known and got a name in London : a time of hope for art in Douglas.

His realism was less marked in the charcoal drawings that came into the market : their craft was simple; tones of the subject, massed, contrasted, rawness of material rubbed off with the hand, on that base forms and textures drawn finally, they had an immense popularity: phenomenal : an enthusiasm for their merit existed, also certainly an appreciation of their business value: positively not, a joyful response of the grey mood of the Manx to his greys : few of them now remain in Douglas.

They made a mark in another way : a school of black and white draughtsmen arose : Stevenson, realist, local : Holden, Holland, general, picturesque : many amateurs : all sharing in the enthusiasm and commercial activity.

His colour work was hardly known, limited in quantity, arousing none to follow : pastels on brown paper : pigment harmonizing with colour of the paper, drawn lightly over the rough surface of it : powder of colour fascinating by its native charm and skilful use: brown studies, original, distinctive : a group of small oil colours, again in brown, umber trees, amber skies, loose; a water colour, hard, waywardnesses of water severely disciplined.

Two lithographs not differing from his charcoal work : blacklead drawings also—from nature ; a frequently recurring exercise for discipline of hand, renewal of memories ; carelessly accurate, broad, character of subject less marked than sense of craft : discrimination shewn in front of nature, not pursued in his workroom.

This failure consistently to show the homogeneity of his art, the mystery of Sheffield: the place of craft as an art, medium translating nature into art, medium giving form to feeling, medium directing, leading imagination~ at his completest, his single opportunity, his work in the Atholl smoke room ; brown pictures, light filled skies illuminating a lovely quiet homely land, brown dark frames resting in the panels of the brown wainscot ; their historic place among the work of prephotographic illustrators and engravers : a derived art ; there action of the engravers ideal on the painter’s art : congruence, homogeneity, the artist’s delight in the suggestion of his craft, they are wanting : in them the Sheffield of the smoke room, sources of pleasure to countless thousands : at the School, realist, critical, another Sheffield advising students in the balances of wisdom.



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