|The First Buds of Spring |
watercolour, 25 x 16 inches, signed and dated 1885
Lionel Percy Smythe
It is still very cold here but the first buds of Spring are opening bringing us hope that soon winter really will pass. It has been a mild Winter overall, with snow only coming in small amounts in January and February.
|Countryside Info website|
Blackbirds are everywhere gathering food for their young, when we drove at dusk we slowed right down for them because they fly very low from hedge to hedge across the road.
Before our holiday I visited one of my favourite art galleries and came across a catalogue from 2000 which caught my eye. The cover had the most exquisite watercolour on it, of a young girl in a wood with a blackbird in the bush beside her. The composition is soft and luminous and somehow conveys an air of melancholy. I found it quite poignant, the young girl perched on the brink of womanhood, and the Spring, both poised to bloom.
I'd been shopping all day and my bags and baskets were full but I had to have this. It was only a few pounds. I set off weighted down with my captures of the day towards the car.
|Royal Albert Primrose Hill teacup|
Once home and fortified by a cup of tea in a pretty cup I looked more closely at the catalogue and read the entry about this watercolour. The painting is called, 'The First Buds of Spring' and is by Lionel Percy Smythe (1839-1918). Lionel was the son of the 6th Viscount Stratford. He spent his early years in France before his family returned to settle in London in 1843. He trained in London and some of his paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1863. Smythe and his wife made their home in Normandy, first at Wimereux (where the artist had spent his summer holidays as a child) and, from 1882 onwards, at the Château d’Honvault, between Wimereux and Boulogne.
Lionel was a student of nature and he often portrayed the woods and fields of the countryside where he lived. His work was popular with a small following of collectors in England and became associated with 'The Idyllists', a group of Victorian artists and illustrators which included Frederick Walker and John William North. His work is represented in the collections of the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
This piece is one of a series which Smythe painted using the woodlands around his home as a backdrop to a young girl pushing through a thicket in Spring time. The model was his daughter Norah, known as Noe. One of the compositions, 'A Wood Nymph' was exhibited in 1884. I have been unable to find an image of that painting, with that name, but the catalogues states that it is, 'surely close in composition to the present picture with its 'silver velvety bud of the willow palm' and 'a blackbird preening itself'. I wondered if this could have also been named 'Springtime', as this painting is so similar to the description and Noe is also the model here.
|Lionel Percy Smythe|
possibly also known as 'A Wood Nymph'
And there is one other painting which I located, entitled 'Bramble' which has the same composition but the girl is dark haired.
|Lionel Percy Smyth|
His paintings of farm and seashore workers and children picking flowers and playing have magic about them although they often portray quite common circumstance. Stephen Ogden Fine Art sums this up in their bio entry of the artist when they say that, writing in 1910, one scholar noted of the artist that ‘Mr. Smythe proves plainly that a man may be as realist and still retain his poetic sense; that he may record the life about him faithfully and convincingly and yet miss none of its poetry, none of its imaginative suggestion, and none, certainly, of the beauty it may happen to possess.’
The Chris Beetles catalogue entry ends thus, "Its suggestion of melancholy is given poignant emphasis by the knowledge that Noe developed pleurisy in 1897, and died of tuberculosis a year later, before her 13th birthday'.
I have fallen in love with his work, and with this beautiful girl who lit up his paintings. I hope to see some of his pieces in galleries when I am feeling better and can travel again.
|Lionel Percy Smythe|
(love the flower collar on the dog)
Stephen Ongpin Fine Art HERE:
Chris Beetles Art Gallery
Royal Albert China