Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Joseph Stannard



Today is the birth-date of Joseph Stannard, the Norwich artist who died tragically young of tuberculosis aged just 33. Joseph Stannard ( Sept. 13th 1797- Dec. 5th 1830) was one of the most gifted artists who exhibited collectively under the banner of  Norwich School from 1803 to 1833, the city being the home of the first regional art movement in British art. Such was the precocious development of the young Joseph  that he began exhibiting his paintings aged 14 in 1811. He looks confident and aware of his talents in his teacher Robert Ladbrooke's portrait of him.


Joseph Stannard's life is exemplary of  the romantic notion of a struggling  artist. Living in the turbulent era of  the early nineteenth century, he was often in financial difficulties and in poor health. In addition to his artistic skills he was, like his younger brother Alfred, a strong rower. He was also an  accomplished ice-skater who entertained the locals with his skill during cold winters. Stannard's era was also that of the Napoleonic wars which were prohibitive to travel  in mainland Europe. When stability returned to Europe, Stannard took the opportunity to visit Holland. In Amsterdam in 1821 he viewed paintings by seventeenth century Dutch landscape masters Ruisdael, Berchem and Hobbema which deepened his interest in marine and seascape subjects. He married in 1822 and in 1824 his fortune changed when the Norwich manufacturer John Harvey commissioned him to paint what is his master-work, Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon. Harvey's agenda was to establish Norwich as a sea-port for the export of his merchandise. After visiting Venice and witnessing festivities held on the water there he organised a similar event for Norwich society which promoted his idea of Norwich returning to its sea-port status.

In many ways Stannard's  Thorpe Water Frolic is an important social document of a rare day off work for Norwich's textile workers who are depicted upon the right bank of the river Yare. The growing middle-class, civic dignitaries and aristocracy of Georgian England are located on the opposite river-bank.

Joseph Stannard has used a fair amount of poetic licence in his capturing the mood of the event, complete with musicians playing Schubert, courting couples, naval officers, rugged seamen and city loom workers  all enjoying a work-free day on the river. Particular attention to weather conditions and a vigorous cloudscape frames the lively water-event.



Stannard's own boat the Cytherea is on the extreme right of the canvas. Joseph can be seen shielding his brow with his hand looking toward his patron Harvey standing in a gondola. He certainly entered into the spirit of the event which attracted 20,000 people in 1824, his boat is described thus-
'its colour is purple; the inside is adorned with an elegant gilt scroll, which completely encircles it; on the back-board where the coxswain sits, is a beautiful and spirited sea-piece, representing a stiff breeze at sea, with vessels sailing in various directions, painted in oils, and the spoons of the oars are neatly covered with gilt dolphins'.
There's an interesting inter-play between Stannard the sailor who depicted the rigging and canvas sails of boats with every rope in its correct place and the medium of canvas on which he painted. Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon is dominated by a canvas sail catching the breeze. The large-scale oil on canvas painting itself measures 108 x 172 cms and  is a jewel in the crown of the Crome and Cotman  galleries in Norwich Castle Museum.

Although the artists of the Norwich School  had the inspiration and natural beauty of the Norfolk landscape and its waterways upon their door-step, the tragedy many artists suffered from was a distinct lack of local patronage, obliging many talented members to engage in much drudging, teaching work in order to make a living, such was J.J.Cotman's frequent fate; worse still,  it also suffered from an  intense rivalry between leading families.

Ever since the young Joseph Stannard had enquired about lessons from the founding father of the Norwich School 'Old Crome'  John Crome (1768-1821) a bitter hostility existed between the two families. Crome quoted an extortionate sum which was in effect a snub to the Stannard family. The hostility between the Crome and Stannard families seems to have persisted throughout the nineteenth century, even to the grandchildren of the two masters of  'Old Crome' and Stannard, both families producing several generations of artists.

In some respects Joseph Stannard's biography comes across as the consumptive poet of romanticism not unlike Keats. In his finest paintings, Stannard's paintings burst beyond the confines of restrained Classicism into a lyrical, early Romanticism.There's also an equal balance between landscape and realistic portraiture of people who are active and integral to the landscape in Stannard's painting, unlike Crome's landscapes in which people are often incidental, or present only for emphasis of scale and perspective.

Throughout the 1820's Stannard  had intermittent bouts of poor health and resided at various Norfolk coastal resorts in order to recuperate. His later works include several highly original beach scenes which include activities of working fishermen. However in December of 1830 he died of tuberculosis aged 33. A memorial stone commemorating Joseph Stannard can be seen in the church of Saint John Maddermarket, Norwich.

Wikipedia has a page on Joseph  Stannard which links to a number of his paintings.  

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