Colour me happy
This postcard has been propped up on my desk for weeks. I absolutely adore it. The picture is “Along the Shore, Southwold” by Joseph Southall. He painted it in 1914, and yet it has such a fresh modern feel that I keep coming back to look at it. At first it looks to be a deceptively simple snapshot of summer society in an English seaside resort (Southwold is still a lovely quintessentially English seaside resort, with a lot of old fashioned charm). But on a little reflection, far from being a spontaneous snapshot, the composition has obviously been planned down to the letter. The twisted body and angles of the lady in the yellow cardigan (which I covet) is a pose you might see in any fashion magazine. Notice how the other characters seem to radiate out from her on diagonals until the picture is a whirl of movement?
One of the other things I love about this picture is the careful choice of a limited palate of basic colours, and then clever deployment of those colours to balance all the aspects of the composition. See how the pink of the lady on the right is counter balanced out by the child’s hood, the pink bow on the hat of the lady in brown and the pink of the bathing hut in the top right?
Same location, same artist, nine years later (“Parasols, Southwold”):
(After his marriage in 1903, Southall and his wife visited Southwold every summer for 34 years.)
I wish I looked that elegant on the beach! Again, Southall poses his subjects like models, and again works wonders with colour. Very few actual colours are used in this painting (although there are quite a few tones of each one) but isn’t the overall effect compelling? The orange sail of the boat, the stripes on the beach coat of the model sitting on the sand, the parasol, the dress on the right. The blue of the woman under the red parasol and the man’s jersey. I love the fact that it seems to be sliding towards night here, and yet no one wants to leave the beach.
Opinion on Southall as an artist was divided. Roger Fry described him as ‘a little slightly disgruntled and dyspeptic Quaker artist who does incredible tempera sham Quattrocentro modern sentimental things with a terrible kind of meticulous skill’. Ouch. But in 1950 Sir Osbert Sitwell recalled a late 1920s visit by the great Picasso to the home of Violet Gordon Woodhouse:
Fellow guests were astonished as he kept returning to a little room to admire pictures ‘bought from an old gentleman’ and eventually offered to buy them. They were a ‘portrayal, in pure, bright, almost encaustic tones of paint, of sailing ships in full rig against a flat sea.’ The artist was Joseph Edward Southall.
(Information on Southall here comes from Suffolk cards, who sell postcards of the two Southwold pics above. Apparently, Southall worked a lot in egg tempera, and even kept chickens to make paint out of the yolk!)
Here’s another masterclass in colour by Southall called “Ariadne in Naxos”:
Another painting with a very unusual colour palette can be found here on the Tate Gallery’s website. (The Tate has such a strict copyright policy I can’t repost it here.)