The Doctor by Samuel Luke Fildes

The Doctor by Luke Fildes (1889)

Yesterday I was telling you about the life of Samuel Luke Fildes and featured one of his paintings An Al-Fresco Toilette, which he completed in 1889.  I ended by saying I would return to his life later as it had a connection with another of his paintings, entitled The Doctor which he completed in 1891.

Yesterday I told you how he had given up his work on the Socialist magazine The Graphic and also changed his painting style from the Socialist Realism genre to become, along with his artist friend and brother-in-law, Henry Wood, leaders of the Neo-Venetian school of painting, which had become very popular. His popularity was in the ascendancy and he had become one of the best British painters of his time.  Besides his Venetian-style paintings he completed a number of portraits including those of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.  He was elected as an associate of the Royal Academy in 1879 and eight years later an academician.  He was knighted in 1906.

Fildes’ eldest son, Philip tragically died of tuberculosis in 1877.  Fildes was devastated at this sad event and this terrible ordeal was captured in his painting The Doctor, which shows the medical man at the side of an ailing child.  In 1949 this painting was used by the American Medical Association in its campaign against a proposal put forward by the President of America, Harry Truman to nationalise health care.  Sixty-five thousand posters incorporating Fildes’ painting with words “Keep Politics Out of this Picture” were displayed around the country with the intention of raising public awareness of what the government was trying to do and by doing so, raising public scepticism for this new-fangled idea of nationalised health care.

Luke Fildes R.A., Painting his Picture "The Doctor" by Reginald Cleaver (c.1891)

The Doctor is probably the most famous painting by Luke Fildes.  He made numerous sketches before he sat down to paint the picture.  Fildes had travelled all over the Scottish highlands sketching the interiors of small cottages which he could maybe use in his painting.   He even had an exact replica of the sick room made in his studio right down to the table cloth and lampshade tilted towards the sick child, as shown in the drawing by the artist Reginald Cleaver.  This was actually published in the illustrated newspaper, The Graphic, which twenty-two years earlier had been the place of employment for the young aspiring artist.

In the painting we see the early morning light streaming in through the window on the left hand side.  In some ways it is a time of jubilation as the child has survived through the night.  It is a new dawn and maybe hope comes with it.  In the background we see the mother, who is both relieved and exhausted from a sleepless night, laying her head on her hands on the table.  Her husband places a comforting hand on her shoulder.  In the foreground we have the doctor and the child both illuminated by sunlight.  Look at the child.  He is not lying on a comfortable bed but stretched across two wooden chairs which are maybe all the family could afford. 

It is a poignant picture, the subject of which obviously brought memories flooding back to Fildes regarding the death of his son.  It is also, in a way, a return to the Social Realism genre of painting which Fildes did in his early twenties,  in the way it shows the poverty some people had to endure.

Springtime in Eskdale by James McIntosh Patrick

Springtime in Eskdale by James McIntosh Patrick (1934)

My Daily Art Display for today features another painting by a twentieth century British artist.  Today’s painting entitled Springtime in Eskdale was painted by the Scottish landscape artist and etcher James McIntosh Patrick in 1934.

James McIntosh Patrick was born in Dundee in 1907.  His father, an architect, encouraged his son’s interest in art and when he was 17 had him enrol as a second-year student at the Glasgow School of Art.   Later in 1926, he and one of his teachers, Maurice Grieffenhagen, had a three month summer vacation in the South of France working on paintings of the local landscape.  After he completed his studies he started off his working life as an etcher but in the 1930’s the demand for this type of work dwindled and Patrick began to concentrate on watercolour and oil painting.  The art genre he loved was that of landscape painting.   At the beginning, he would go out into the countryside make many sketches and bring them back to his studio and use them to complete his oil or watercolour painting.  It was not until later on that he perfected his style and technique in en plein air painting.  He believed this to be the best way to paint landscapes saying that it encouraged people to appreciate nature itself as they sat and painted. He was once quoted as saying:

“…I don’t suppose there is much sentimentality about my paintings, but I have a deep feeling that Nature is immensely dignified when you are out of doors.  I am struck by the dignity of everything…”

 “…..As I got to know the countryside better and better, I came to realise that rhythmic ideas are inside you and so you go around looking for landscapes where the countryside fits a preconceived idea that you have inside you and which you recognise when you see it. In other words, a twisted bit of wood, a wall or a gate, immediately causes you to say; ah, that’s the bit I am looking for… It is much easier to make up a picture than to paint nature as it appears before us…”

 He had many of his paintings shown at the Royal Academy.  The outbreak of the Second World War and his call-up into the Army Camouflage Corps curtailed his painting career for five years but when it ended he returned with his wife and family to his house in Dundee, which he had purchased before the start of war.  Their house overlooked the River Tay and it was at this time that he started experimenting with outdoor landscape painting.  His paintings were of the traditional variety in as much as “what you got is what you see” as he had no time for the “contemporary” interpretations of landscapes.  He taught art up until his eighties and continued painting up until his last few years when his eyesight began to fail.  His love for his native county of Angus was well documented in all his paintings of that area.  His depiction of the scenic countryside was shown in all types of weather conditions and at different times of the year.

Art historians rank James McIntosh Patrick as one of the greatest painters Scotland produced in the twentieth century and his artistic brilliance was a match for most of Europe’s best landscape painters of the twentieth century.  He died in Dundee, the town where he was born, in 1998, aged 91.

Today’s featured painting, Springtime in Eskdale, is a detailed landscape painting of The Crooks in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire which was the birthplace of the famous civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford.  This painting by Patrick was completed in 1934 and was to mark the centenary of Telford’s death.  In the middle ground we can see people visiting a cottage whilst further back we can just make out a farmer ploughing his land.  Further back we see a small river at the foot of a line of hills, which rise into the background.  The artist’s view of the scene is from a somewhat elevated position looking down at the farmland.

I love the stone wall divisions we see in the painting.  Although I am not familiar with the location of the painting, it does remind me so much of the countryside landscape of Yorkshire with its multi coloured patchwork-quilt fields separated by dry-stone walls.  We are not looking solely at the element of Nature but we are seeing the man-made design element of stone walls, a cottage with its out-buildings and the ploughed field and how the two elements blend so perfectly.  The choice of season for the setting of this painting could well have come from the print publisher, Harold Dickens, who had seen the success of Patrick’s earlier work entitled Winter in Angus, which was in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1935  and Autumn Kinnorby and Midsummer in East Fife.

The inclusion of a road in the foreground encourages us to follow it with our eyes and thus explore the middle and background.  One of the most well-defined aspects of the painting is the way he has painted the trees.  He was a great believer that they were one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind and he would put a lot of effort into their depiction in order for us to be more appreciative of what Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.  This painting was a result of many sketches he had made of the area and in some ways was a “slightly idealised” view of the landscape produced partly from his sketches and partly from what he could remember about the area.