Friday, 30 November 2012

'George Weatherill – his family, and their art' by the Rev Malcolm Buchannan

This is the text of an address given by the Rev. Malcolm Buchannan, M.A., grandson of George Weatherill on October 7th, 1949.

It is a delightful talk, particularly such stories as his grandfather walking from Yarm to York as a teenager to attend a court case for his employer, and walking back again the next day – and how he used to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to paint the sunrise from East Cliff.

At their autumn conversazione, in the Pannett Art Gallery, on Friday, the members of Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society heard a talk on George Weatherill – his family, and their art, by the Rev Malcolm Buchannan, MA, a grandson of George Weatherill.

There was a large attendance, and the members were received by the Marquis of Normanby, MBE, patron of the Society.

Presiding at the lecture, Lord Normanby said the Society was proud of its record.  Everybody acknowledged that the Museum was one of the greatest assets of Whitby.  Not only was it a centre of interest and research for local people, but for the many thousands who came to Whitby for their holiday.  The Society had assumed the responsibility of trying to provide opportunities at different times of the year for lectures and discussions, and tried to make itself a focal point in Whitby’s cultural life.  
Referring to the Weatherill collection of paintings, he said that, if rightly used, they should be not only a pleasure to the onlooker but a source of inspiration.  They did not want their generation to be barren in depicting Whitby, its life and activities, and he hoped they would be able to carry on the tradition set by the Weatherill family, so that they might show future generations the Whitby they knew, loved, and lived in to-day.
The Rev M Buchannan said:

When Mr. Browne asked me to give a lecture on my Grandfather and his art, I was very doubtful whether I was the right person to do it.  I had been brought up to revere and admire him both as an artist and a man, and cannot claim to be impartial.  Nor can I pretend to such a knowledge of art as would qualify me to be an art critic.

However, I had been grieved to find that, though the earliest portion of this building was built with money provided by Mr. Pannett in his will to house the Weatherill pictures and others he possessed, and to preserve them as a treasure for the town, they were kept locked up and inaccessible to the public.  Hence I was anxious to use the opportunity of this lecture to help Whitby people to appreciate the treasure they possess, and to put it to better use, and see that it is well cared for. 

My brother [Charles Buchannan 1881-1955], who shares my feelings, encouraged me to undertake the task, and supplied me with information and with guidance about the artistic side of the lecture, which he knows far more about than I do, as he paints himself.

Finally, I applied to Miss Maud Waddington, who was brought up at Whitby, and is herself an artist and is old enough to have known my Grandfather and his family when he was still in his prime as an artist; and so is able to give a far more informed and impartial appreciation of his art than I could.  She very kindly supplied me with a long letter in which she speaks of my Grand-father and his art just as I should have wished to speak myself if I could.

This removed my last scruples, and I will proceed to give a brief account of his life and then use this letter of Miss Waddington's to describe his art.

George Weatherill was born on September 18th, 1810, at a farm near Staithes, most of his family being farmers.

I can find no particulars of his education, but he must have showed gifts beyond those required by a farmer, for in his teens he became clerk to a Mr. Garbutt, a solicitor of Guisborough and afterwards of Yarm.  He came to Whitby in 1830 as clerk to Mr. Henry Belcher.  Afterwards he joined the staff of Messrs. Simpson and Chapman's Bank in Grape Lane.  There he became chief cashier, and for many years lived at the Bank House next door to Captain Cook's House.

Long before he came to Whitby, however, he had taken up painting as a hobby for the love of it.  Who helped him in his early efforts I have been unable to learn, and it seems clear that he was very largely self taught.  After he came to Whitby he soon got to know some of the artists who, even in those days, frequented the place, and especially, a Mr. Dodgson who may have helped him and who certainly helped to make him known.  But already, when he arrived at Whitby in 1830 at the age of 19, he was far advanced in artistic skill.

I possess and have brought here to-day a picture of the Abbey with the tower still standing.  Now the tower fell in June, 1830, so the picture must have been painted before that date, when he was not yet 20 years old, and already it displays a delicacy of touch, a skill in drawing and a power of expressing tight and shade and cloud effects, which show that he was already very far from being a beginner.

He had the natural gifts that go to make an artist.

First, an extraordinary love of nature. This was shown by the efforts he had to make in order to find opportunities for observing, drawing and painting nature at first hand.  Office hours were longer in those days than now –  9 a.m. till 6 p.m., I believe.  So, in summer he would get up at 5 a.m., or earlier, to go up to the East Cliff to see and paint the sunrise.  When they were old enough, he took his daughters with him, and though they all became artists afterwards, the youngest at least found the effort too severe to be enjoyable.

From his earliest days he was a great walker, and when business led him to visit other towns he often walked instead of using a coach, and so enjoyed the country.  When still at Yarm, in his late teens, he had to attend a case at the law court at York.  He walked there from Yarm – 44 miles – on the day before, attended his case next morning and walked back the same day, I believe arriving late at night.

Later, when he lived at Whitby and had few off-days save Sundays, though his own deep and simple faith forbade him to neglect worship, he used to combine worship in church, and the delight of contemplating God's works in nature, by starting to walk to Scarborough at 5 a.m., attending church there, and walking back in the afternoon.

He had a friend who used to accompany him on these expeditions, but used to stop at Scalby, where he was courting a lady.  This friend must have been somewhat absent-minded; for there was a story that after he had married the lady he once accompanied my Grandfather and stopped at Scalby as before, went to her parents' house, and asked if Miss So-and-So was in!

Later, when his parents had moved to Hinderwell, he used to walk there to church and lunch with them, walking back in the afternoon.

This love for nature and power of observation was helped by wonderful eyesight and by an extremely delicate touch, which is evidenced not only by his paintings, especially the smaller ones, but also by his copper-plate engravings and his Indian-ink drawings, examples of which are on view on one of the glass cases in the museum.

I have brought some examples of them which show a delicate perfection of details of drawing, which only a perfect eye and a very sure hand could have executed.  The engraving of the Martyrs' Memorial in the Greyfriars churchyard at Edinburgh is an example.  The inscription on the tombstone is much of it legible, though few can read it with the naked eye.  I used to be able to read the first lines with a magnifying glass, but even with that help I can do so no longer.

Lastly, besides his study of nature, he was most diligent in reading all he could get of writers on painting.

He even taught himself Italian so as to be able to read Italian works on art, and he took every opportunity of studying the pictures of great artists, especially Turner.  His work for the Bank sometimes took him to London, and he missed no chance of visiting the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, the Wallace collection, etc.  He also made a large collection of engravings of Turner's pictures, which my brother and I have inherited.

Probably this study of Turner had more to do with the development of his style than the influence of any other human teacher, and he so benefited by his study that Miss Waddington and other good judges have called him the "Turner of the North."

Before, however, giving you her appreciation of his work, I must briefly detail the rest of his life-story.

He continued his work at the Bank till about 1860, but, though he never made any efforts to gain recognition as an artist, the excellence of his work became known, through the reports of artists and other friends; and people not only from the neighbourhood but from distant parts of England came desiring to buy his pictures and pressing him to paint more.

As he was unwilling to disappoint them, and as his work and responsibilities at the bank increased at the same time, he had a break-down of health owing to overwork, and about 1860 he had to resign his post at the Bank, and when his health improved, to rely on his art for a living.

How hard he must have worked was shewn by the fact that several men were required to take his place in the Bank; and the growing appreciation of his art was demonstrated by the fact that very soon he earned far more by his art alone than he had before earned by both it and his salary at the Bank, although he never attempted to make a name or to put up his prices.

I believe that this last period of his life, at least up to the death of his wife in 1885, was the happiest.

He was able to give his whole time to the art he loved, and I can remember when I was a small boy seeing him myself seated at his easel, and noticing his intent and happy expression as he transferred to canvas some vision of beauty which he had caught out of doors.

His eyesight may have failed a little towards the end, and his later work was perhaps less finished as regards detail; but his power of expressing beauty by delicate blendings of colour, especially in his skies with their renderings of cloud effects and sunrises and sunsets, remained and perhaps even increased, to the end.

His family, save the youngest, were grown up when he left the Bank, and all of them shared his interests, had learnt from him to become artists, and were mostly paying their own way by the sale of pictures and by taking private pupils in art.

Even my Mother's marriage in 1875 hardly broke the home circle as, after a short residence at Ormesby, near Middlesbrough, my parents returned to Whitby and settled there permanently.

My Grandfather passed away on August 30th, 1890, just before his 80th birthday. I may be permitted to quote a sentence or two from the obituary notice in the "Whitby Gazette" of that day :-
"Mr. Weatherill had been ailing for some time, and he passed away peacefully and quietly - just as he had lived."  
After a few words about his character, the writer continues:
"It was as an artist that he was more generally known, for no man ever lived to reveal so tenderly and so artistically the rare natural beauties of Whitby both as a quaint town and as an ancient seaport.  It may be said of Mr. Weatherill that he loved art for its own sake, and no picture ever came from his easel but bore clear evidences of conscientious work and poetic feeling."
And later :
"What J. M. W. Turner did for Venice with its vast range of palaces, porticos, and towering columns, George Weatherill has done for Whitby with its romantic coast, fine Abbey, and ancient port.  Mr. R.E. Pannett is the happy possessor of some of Mr. Weatherill's finest drawings, notably a very fine harbour scene and two beautiful views of the Abbey.  In some of the smaller pictures Mr. Weatherill excels himself, the delicacy of some of the details being matchless."
I will conclude this attempt to describe and appreciate my Grandfather's art by quoting almost in full Miss Waddington's letter in answer to my request for information about his work.

She writes:
"You could not have asked me to do anything for you which would give me more pleasure.  Only a few weeks ago I suggested to Miss Cleverly, of Sleights, who writes such charming articles about artists, that she should write something about the Weatherill family, who should never be allowed to be forgotten in the annals of the history of Whitby."
She then refers to a booklet she wrote some years ago in which she speaks of my grandfather as follows:-
"George Weatherill, the northern Turner, made Whitby into Venice, and rose before dawn to catch the iridescent lights of the sunrise on her cliffs and water. His pictures are treasures indeed."
The letter continues :
"My earliest memory of Mr. Weatherill was of a most lovable, tall, white-haired gentleman; so humble he would never hear a word of praise for his lovely work.  Once, after I had sold one of his pictures, he gave me an expensive paint box.  Two days afterwards I found him sketching on the Scaur with a child's shilling colour-box. When I strongly remonstrated with him, he only smiled and said, "It's good enough for me; it's good enough for me!"
That was just his whole character.

Yes, self-taught, or rather, God-taught; for unconsciously beauty poured over him, and his simple, humble soul was filled with a rare transcendent vision of loveliness which flowed into all his work."
Then, in answer to my question whether he had any teachers, and particularly whether Mr. Dodgson had helped him, she says:
“I remember Mr. George Dodgson, and how much Mr. Weatherill admired his work.  But I cannot think any artist "helped" him.  He seemed to stand alone in his own artistic atmosphere and sense of beauty.  He never would exhibit, and expressed surprise at anyone wanting to buy one of his pictures.  Mr. Pannett, of course, had many of his pictures, and thought so highly of them that he left a fortune to build the Art Gallery that these pictures might find a permanent home, where they would be treasured in safe keeping for the township of Whitby."
I can illustrate Miss Waddington's description of my Grandfather's humility from an incident of my own childhood, which I remember with shame.

I was a small boy of five or six and had been allowed to come into his studio and watch him paint, and I had the impudence to criticise one of the details of his picture, declaring that he was wrong in painting a two-masted vessel with the after-mast taller than the foremast.  The truth, of course, is that the relative height of the masts varies according to the type of vessel and its rig.

My grandfather listened silently to my silly criticism without the least sign of annoyance, and it was only when I turned to my Uncle thinking that he would uphold me, that I received the snub I deserved.  This Uncle Richard told me often that, though his father had not a sailor's knowledge of the use of each rope and bit of tackle on a ship, he never got anything wrong in his drawings of ships.

That illustrates his artistic powers of observation and, I imagine, is a thing which could be said of few artists who are not also sailors.

Miss Waddington's letter concluded with brief references to the Weatherill family, which I will quote and supplement.

She writes:
"Your Grandfather's family all inherited his great gift.  Your Aunt Mary did beautiful pencil work, and her foreign cathedrals and markets were quite exquisite."
This Aunt Mary was the oldest of the family.  She developed very quickly, and before she was out of her teens was selling pictures and giving lessons.

She was of a bright and cheerful disposition and made many friends, and those of her artistic friends and pupils who were well off frequently invited her to accompany them on sketching tours on the Continent, especially France and Italy, though she also visited Germany and Switzerland and Norway.  Her disposition made her delight in bright colours, and she was at her best in depicting scenes from sunnier climes than ours, where the lights and colouring are more vivid than here.

I was her godson, and have inherited one of her chief works, an oil picture of St. Mark's, Venice.

Of my mother – the second of the family – Miss Waddington writes:
"I remember a beautiful thing of your Mother's in the Gallery, and often heard it said that she would have been a great artist if she had not married."
I agree with the first part of this saying, though, of course, a son cannot be an impartial judge.

The latter part of the statement needs correcting.  It was not her marriage which caused my Mother to relinquish her painting, but a severe breakdown from overwork which took place when she was quite young – about twenty or twenty-one, I believe.

She was so enthusiastically devoted to her art that she damaged both her health and her eyesight.  She spent some time in London studying and copying pictures at the National Gallery and elsewhere, and her health suffered and her eyesight was so damaged that it began gradually to deteriorate and continued to do so, so that for some years before her marriage in 1875 she had to paint less and less.  She continued to paint a little for some time after her marriage.  I think her last picture was painted in 1894.  In her latter years she became unable even to read.

Of the third daughter, my Aunt Elizabeth, Miss Waddington makes no mention. However, she also was an artist, and I have some beautiful pictures of hers.  But she was unable to do as much painting as the others, because she was considerably younger than they; and by the time she had grown up my Grandmother was becoming unable to look after the home and the youngest daughter had to take her place, the elder ones being already fully engaged in artist's work.

The youngest member of the family was my uncle Richard, born in 1844.

In his young days Whitby was still a busy port-of-call for sailing ships, specially for the small coasters which carried coal from the Tyne, or brought timber from the Baltic.  Wooden ships continued to be built at Whitby till 1871, when the last was launched by Messrs. Smales Brothers.  There was thus a demand here for Baltic timber up to that date.  Many ships which had no cargoes to land here used Whitby as a port-of-refuge in storms or as a place to lay up at in winter.

My uncle was deeply interested in ships and sailors, and mingled much with the latter and gained a thorough knowledge of ships.  In his early days he wished to go to sea but, as his health was not robust, and as he inherited his father's gifts, he, too, became an artist and specialised in marine paintings.  Unlike his father, he painted mostly in oil; but he certainly inherited his father's gifts of colouring and of reproducing the finest cloud and sea effects.

Of him, Miss Waddington writes :
"Your Uncle Dick taught us from early childhood and grounded us in perspective and ships."
As one thinks of them, and especially of my grandfather, one calls to mind Rudyard Kipling's description of the joy of artists in Heaven:
When earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried;
When the oldest colours have faded and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and faith we shall need it – lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of all good workmen shall put us to work anew.

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame;
But each for the joy of the working; and each in his separate star
Shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are.
The first lines of this last verse describe exactly the spirit in which my Grandfather painted even in this life.   But I think he would have demurred to the suggestion in the last line that artists in Heaven will still have their partial and individual outlooks.  He looked forward to seeing the Eternal beauty, and to seeing all else truly in that light.
"Now we see through a glass darkly but then face to face,
Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."

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