As a working author on art, I have been able to use the Art UK database in my research. Art UK’s work in Leeds, was especially valuable when I was writing my book, Newlyn Flowers: The Floral Art of Dod Procter in 2004.
Dod Procter trained at the painting school run by Stanhope Forbes at Newlyn in Cornwall, where he had been instrumental in establishing an artists’ colony in the 1880s. The clear light of that south-western corner of Britain and the hard but picturesque lives of the local fisherfolk soon attracted a number of artists. Dod was interested in painting figure studies, becoming famous overnight in 1926 with her painting Morning, a study of a local fisherman’s daughter waking in her sparsely furnished room. The teenage Cissie Barnes is shown, simply depicted, stretching sleepily before getting ready for the day’s work.
My book was primarily about Dod’s varied and accomplished flower paintings, many of which are privately owned and exemplify her love of simply formed flowers such as camellias, poppies and marguerites rather than ones of more convoluted construction such as full-bodied, many-petalled roses. In the collection of Temple Newsam I found a beautiful seventeenth-century flower piece, Balthasar van der Ast’s Floral Study with Beaker, Grasshopper and Seashells that I used to compare with her work. I was delighted to find, too, an unusual painting by Dod’s husband, Ernest Procter, owned by the University of Leeds. This was his The Virgin of the Harbour, 1915, said to be an idealised portrait of his wife and their young son, Bill. Like most of Ernest’s work, it was cleverly designed, for behind its clean-lined art deco character there are echoes of much earlier depictions of the biblical Madonna with the small Jesus. While the tiny figure of Joseph is just visible climbing a slope behind, the baby looks up at his mother, who gazes down at him, his small outstretched hand reaching towards a distant, rounded inlet of the sea that symbolises the world.
Another painting by Ernest is owned by Newcastle’s Laing Gallery – his Night and Evening, where two long-haired women, one blonde, the other dark, lie close together: the fair woman holds a flaming torch, while a small owl flutters towards the dark figure, who represents night-time.
I worked on Newlyn Flowers before Art UK completed their oil paintings project and was later to discover attractive paintings by Dod Procter at Sheffield and Walsall. Nonetheless, my research taught me that there are amazing discoveries to be made in municipal collections, many of whom own remarkable pictures of which we would be unaware before the work of Art UK.
Averil King is the author of several books on art, including Newlyn Flowers: The Floral Art of Dod Procter, Isaak Levitan: Lyrical Landscape and Paula Modersohn-Becker.