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John William North Image File

A selection of images, changing regularly.

Viewers are welcome to submit images and reviews for inclusion here. I look forward to seeing them.

A Goddess (1913)

Completed in 1913 when North was 71 and displayed at the RWS Winter Exhibition (No.55).

A really unusual subject for North. He was much criticised for his figure drawing (in early works it seems that Pinwell and Walker painted in figures for North - so he must have been sensitive to the accusations) and yet quite typically in this later work he seems oblivious to his own technical limitations. The superficial crudeness of the life drawing is completely overpowered by the luminosity and intensity of the colour and light effects.

I struggle a bit with this one. On the face of it we have a simple drawing of a country maid standing beside a pool. However the model is posed quite deliberately, there is no suggestion that the girl is about to bathe, there are no discarded garments. This does not seem like a idyllic moment of rural life captured - there is no social commentary here. So what do we have?

For a start, the model is almost certainly Maria Milton a farm labourer's daugter and the mother of five illegitimate children by North. This adds a new dimension, is this North saying something about Maria?

There is a sense that the half formed figure of the woman has just come into being; as if the light and landscape have given life to North's 'goddess'. The tragic irony of this is that as North is creating this image so Maria's own life was ebbing away. She was in the final stages of tuberculosis by 1911. Is North immortalising his illicit love? Herkomer tells us that North would work in fits and starts, ever searching for a perfect light effect and scene that would provide a visual mirror for the transitory thoughts in his mind. Thus enraptured he would work intensly to reveal that state of mind on the canvass. Here we can feel the struggle, as North wrenches a deeply spiritual response from his soul and distills it with every grain of artistic skill at his command. A moment of physical and spiritual exultation revealed.

Steve Milton

Winter Sun

'The Winter Sun' oil on canvas (667mm x 984mm) purchased by the Chantrey Bequest from the New Gallery for 315, proposed by Lord Leighton. This painting is now in the Tate Gallery. Completed in 1891 when North was 49 and living at Beggearn Huish House in West Somerset. Exhibited at the New Gallery Summer Exhibition under the title 'The Winter Sun in Wild Woodland' with the following quotation:

"But now sad Winter hath the day
And Pheobus werey of his yearly taskes
Y- stabled hath his steeds in lowly lay"

Perhaps North's Masterwork in oil - and it is unlikely that he ever reached the same emotional intensity again in that medium. It is the sombre tone that provides the key to the work.

North's father Charles had died while in his son's care at Beggearn Huish the previous year and this is North's allegorical eulogy. The heart rending sadness is palpable in the dark tones and in the cold winter skies - the sun has been robbed of its warmth and the landscape is rendered desolate. In comparison to much of North's works of the time this strikes a discordant note - one that explains the critics's confusion. The branching drooping sapling can be read in this context as an allegorical symbol.

Steve Milton 10/10/03

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