Friday, 30 March 2012

Myles Birket Foster

I was visiting the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle this morning when I paused amid my meandering perusal of various Victorian paintings to wonder 'Where have I come across that name before?' The answer was not far to seek:

I think we must all know the landscapes — are they by Birket Foster, or somewhat earlier?— which, in the form of wood-cuts, decorate the volumes of poetry that lay on the drawing-room tables of our fathers and grandfathers — volumes in ‘Art Cloth, embossed bindings’; that strikes me as being the right phrase. I confess myself an admirer of them, and especially of those which show the peasant leaning over a gate in a hedge and surveying, at the bottom of a downward slope, the village church spire — embosomed amid venerable trees, and a fertile plain intersected by hedgerows, and bounded by distant hills, behind which the orb of day is sinking (or it may be rising) amid level clouds illumined by his dying (or nascent) ray. The expressions employed here are those which seem appropriate to the pictures I have in mind; and were there opportunity, I would try to work in the Vale, the Grove, the Cot, and the Flood. Anyhow, they are beautiful to me, these landscapes, and it was just such a one that I was now surveying.
It's from 'A Neighbour's Landmark' by M.R. James - full text it here. It just so happens that Myles Birket Foster was born in North Shields*, a short distance from where I now live. He seems to have been a versatile artist and one of those Victorians who adopted watercolours at a time when chemistry was offering the world an ever-increasing range of colour. It's also argued, quite reasonably, that his pastoral scenes were immensely popular with people whose families had moved to the growing industrial towns, but who retained fond memories of the countryside.

But is there a Birket Foster landscape that conforms, more or less, with the one described by James? I've not been able to find one using the Google machine, but the artist certainly did produce a lot of images that fall into the general category of 'nice images of the rural England', and many did indeed become profitable engravings for the sort of book James recalls.

Hymn to the Sun (engraving by William Miller after Birket Foster)

The Milkmaid 
A farmhouse near Haslemere with children blackberrying, sheepdogs, and sheep

The Thames from Richmond
Judging from these pictures, M.R. James may have conflated several engravings that he first saw in childhood.

*Corrected. I was probably thinking of South Shields for unrelated reasons when I wrote this. As one does.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Myles Burkett Forster was born in NORTH SHIELDS not South Shields