Arthur Severn RI, Bay in Italy - Original late 19th-century watercolour painting

An original late 19th-century watercolour painting, Arthur Severn RI Bay in Italy.

This significant work is by Joseph Arthur Palliser Severn RI (1842-1931). Severn married Joan Agnew in 1871, a cousin of John Ruskin, and thereafter developed an important association with the influential critic. From 1881 Joan and Arthur joined Ruskin at his house at Brantwood on Coniston Water for the last thirty years of Ruskin’s life, and Brantwood was left to the Severns on Ruskin’s death in 1900.

This hazy view of sultry warmth, signed “Arthur Severn RI”, dates from after Severn’s election to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1882, and after he had moved in with John Ruskin at Brantwood. It is likely a scene in Italy, possibly a bay such as Bordighera, where Severn is known to have painted. Severn had an affinity with Italy, his father, Joseph Severn, having lived in Rome for twenty years, and Arthur having travelled to Italy with Ruskin in 1872.

Severn specialised in landscape and marine paintings, in which he experimented with the effects of light and weather – so much so that the writer Marie Corelli championed Severn as a “second Turner”. The composition has a strikingly modern, striated simplicity to it, the sheet divided into foreground swathed in green, blending in to sun-drenched townscape and purple-rust mountains beyond. The left side of the vista is punctuated by the greater clarity of the lake and palace building picked out in the sunlight. And whilst the style is impressionistic, there is sufficient detail to represent the jostling Italian rooftops – the painting is filled with a sense of life.

Signed lower left.
There are some faint vertical marks visible in the sky area, a pale stain to the upper left corner, and minor foxing marks to the water at the left. There is a closed 2.5cm hairline tear to the centre-left edge and a small crease across the upper right corner of the sheet. In context, however, these details do not detract from the overall beauty of the painting and would certainly be minimised by mounting.
34cm x 50cm.

Joseph Arthur Palliser Severn RI (1842-1931) came from an illustrious family of artists. Arthur’s father Joseph, brother Walter and sister Mary were also painters. His father Joseph was John Keats’s intimate friend and portrait painter (Keats famously died in Severn’s arms on 23 February 1821); and through his brother and brother-in-law Arthur became acquainted with James McNeill Whistler.

Severn studied in Paris and Rome, and first began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1862, on the encouragement of Whistler. He was a founder member of the Arts Club and a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. He was an active exhibitor, showing in London at the Royal Academy, RI, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Dudley Gallery, Fine Art Society and Grosvenor Gallery, as well as at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, Leicester Gallery and Manchester City Art Gallery.

Severn was highly influenced by John Ruskin’s artistic theories, after his marriage to Ruskin’s cousin Joan and having moved in with Ruskin at his house at Brantwood on Coniston Water.  Severn was involved in Ruskin’s defence at the trial of Whistler v. Ruskin, although he was personally in a difficult position as he believed Ruskin’s criticisms of Whistler to be unjust. Ruskin left Brantwood to Arthur and Joan Severn on his death in 1900.

Text copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved.

Product code: JE-601

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