This article explores the influence of Ilkley and the surrounding area on the works of Joseph Mallord William Turner, Thomas Girtin, Elizabeth Sorrell and Richard Eurich
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)
Perhaps the most well known artist to have passed through Wharfedale is Turner. Joseph Mallord William Turner is remembered as one of the most important of British Romantic landscape painters and his work is represented in many of the world’s greatest art galleries. The Tate Britain in London is home to the world’s largest collection of Turner’s work, including the sketchbooks he produced when travelling through the Wharfe valley. Bequeathed to the nation in 1856, five years after the artist’s death, these works are available to view by appointment.
Turner visited Yorkshire many times and these journeys are well documented with numerous books and articles written on the subject. His first trip in 1797 at the age of twenty – two encouraged a love for the county that was to stay with him for the rest of his life and provided him with inspiration until the end of his days. Two large drawing books now in the Tate and filled with over 160 pencil drawings and watercolour sketches illustrate his journey – it took him from London, up through Leeds and Wakefield, on to Knaresborough, Ripon and Fountains Abbey. After continuing to Northumberland and the Lake District he headed for York, passing through the Bolton Abbey area en route to his final destination, Harewood House, home of his patron Edward Viscount Lascelles. Here he had been commissioned to make some watercolour views of the house in the landscape.
Another distinguished patron who became a great friend of Turner’s, was Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall near Otley. The artist was a regular visitor to Farnley from 1808 until 1824 – he produced many interior scenes, but also roamed the valley immersing himself in the wild beauty of the place and making many sketches and watercolours. Many of the pictures of the area date from this period, and though I can find none specifically of Ilkley, I have included links to various images he made of Addingham and Beamsley.
This picture, housed in the collection of Manchester City Galleries is dated c. 1815 – 20 and is watercolour and graphite on paper.
This work painted in watercolour and gum varnish on paper was produced in 1816 and can be found in the Wallace Collection, London. Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall is one of the men represented.
This sketch dated c.1816 is a preparatory drawing for the above painting.
The story goes that in 1810, during a visit to Farnley, Turner witnessed a particularly violent snowstorm. He was so impressed by the spectacle that he included the storm in one of his most famous paintings Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army crossing the Alps.
The Wharfe Valley’s weather has been transposed into the ancient past to illustrate this well known story of the Carthaginian military commander’s troops crossing the Alps in c.218BC. This huge oil canvas is on display at the Tate in London.
For anyone interested in further investigating Turner’s visits to Yorkshire see the website http://www.yorkshire.com/turner The site uses Turner’s pictures of Yorkshire as a starting point for various walks and can even show you how to arrive at the vantage points from where Turner would have made his works.
Thomas Girtin (1775 – 1802)
Thomas Girtin was a painter and etcher who helped establish watercolour as an art form of repute. He was a friend and contemporary of Turner. Like Turner he made sketching tours to the North of England, experimenting with a palette of warm browns, indigos, purples and greys to add rich tones to his watercolours.
Leeds City Art Gallery holds a picture by Girtin entitled Ilkley, Yorkshire (1801). By this time Girtin was a welcome guest at Harewood House the home of a patron. Sadly Girtin’s life was to be cut short the following year – it is interesting to contemplate what may have been of this painter had he not died so young
Turner himself held him in great esteem and is known to have remarked “Had Tom Girtin lived I should have starved”.
The river Wharfe is in the foreground and All Saints church and the Manor House can be seen on the left of the image.To the right we see Low House, known today by the name Castle House on present day Bridge Lane, which is one of the oldest houses in the town. Ilkley expanded considerably over the next century and changed from the tiny rural settlement we see in Girtin’s image to a thriving Victorian town, home to the famous hydros and many a wealthy textile merchant.
Elizabeth Sorrell (nee Tanner) 1916 – 1991
Elizabeth Sorrell was born in Cleveland, Yorkshire. She was a watercolourist interested in the beauty and detail of the natural world. Often using the very finest 000 brushes, she painted beautifully precise pictures of the places and objects around her, frequently the interiors of buildings.
Educated at Eastbourne School of Art (1938 – 42) and the Royal College of Art (1938 – 42), she regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy’s summer exhibitions and her paintings are now to be found in the collections of many national museums.
Sorrell was amongst a group of RCA students evacuated to Ambleside from London in 1940 and she went on to teach at Blackpool School of Art from 1942 – 45. Post war, she became a wallpaper designer, producing designs for the famous British Industries Fair “Britain can Make It” in 1947.
The work relating to Ilkley is housed in the Tate Britain, London and entitled “Ferns in the Conservatory”. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/sorrell-ferns-in-the-conservatory-n05928
Dated 1945, it is executed on watercolour and gouache on paper. The Tate notes that it was painted whilst Elizabeth was “…living at Westwood Cottage, Queens Drive, Ilkley” and that “the conservatory, which was attached to the house has since been much altered and enlarged.” However, the location of the picture is most likely one of the old glasshouses built in the grounds between 1875 and 1891, none of which survive, and not the main conservatory.
It is probable that the work was painted when Elizabeth was visiting a friend, as she never lived here for any length of time. In 1945 she was in charge of a junior art department in Blackpool and was probably visiting for a two or three week period. Letters to Alan Sorrell (also an important painter who would later become her husband) refer to her painting this picture as well as another unknown drawing. Interestingly the letters are dated 1944 and either the dating of the work is inaccurate or Elizabeth visited Ilkley on more than one occasion.
At the time of the execution of the work, Westwood Lodge (now an self catering cottages and apartments) located near Ilkley Moor on Wells Road), was in a bad state of repair as attested to by the picture in the above link. In 1945 it was opened as a Convalescent Home for women by The Leeds and District Workpeoples’ Hospital Fund – prior to the NHS, places such as these were very popular. Maybe Elizabeth was staying in the cottage (which is in the grounds of the lodge) and visiting someone convalescing there.
The picture is a beautifully detailed image of a ramshackle glasshouse, full of luscious greenery that almost seems to be taking over the building. It is an excellent example of Sorrell’s eye for fine detail and her ability to see the beauty that can be found in the simple things around us.
More of Sorrell’s work can be seen at:
Richard Eurich RA (1903 – 1992)
Richard Eurich was one of the country’s most fascinating painters and was born in Bradford of German Jewish descent, but moved to Ilkley in 1920 where he lived for a time, revisiting throughout his life. From 1922 – 24 he studied at Bradford School for Art and Crafts, moving on to the Slade School in London in 1924.
This hugely talented artist is not a household name, despite his immense achievements which include being appointed an Official War Artist in 1940 and gaining Royal Academician status in 1953. Eurich’s great love was the sea and he is best known for his seascapes but it is perhaps his range of subject matter and interest in so many themes and styles, from the figurative to landscape to narrative that have made him ‘unclassifiable’. Eurich did not fit neatly into the mainstream progression of twentieth century art, making him an interesting artist to research. His taste in art was often unfashionable and his influences were frowned upon at the time by the art establishment. One of Eurich’s favourite painters was Turner, whose work he first saw at Farnley Hall.
Eurich produced many images of Ilkley. As a student at Bradford he was introduced to the collection of Charles Rutherston, a keen patron of the arts and brother of William Rothenstein and Albert Rutherston, both talented artists. This was Eurich’s introduction to painters such as Wyndham Lewis, Augustus John, Walter Sickert and Paul Nash, and the encounter was to have a profound effect on the young artist’s work. Having seen a painting of William’s entitled St Martin’s Summer, Eurich was inspired to paint one of the trees in his Ilkley garden. In his unpublished autobiography, Eurich wrote:
“There was a stunted oak tree in our garden in Ilkley. I bought a canvas and laboured in the open air during that summer on a painting of it…” As the Twig is bent1
The result was The Tree (c.1924) (oil on canvas). The influence of Cezanne is clear in this work.
Two years earlier, in 1922 he had produced a painting called Keighley Gate, which depicts the wide expanse of Ilkley Moor. This picture with its dark, brooding skies and feeling of loneliness is an interesting example of Eurich’s work – often a strange sense of melancholy pervades his images. http://www.oldfocsle.org.uk/first/radiance/
Another piece from 1924, Romantic Scene, Ilkley Quarry is an example of Eurich’s blend of imagination and realism. What is the story of the two figures in the foreground? The heavy, monumental rocks of our moors tower over the people – there is an air of mystery to this oil painting. In this early work we experience a feeling of unease – a feeling that continues into some of Eurich’s later paintings where the influence of surrealism becomes apparent.
In 1929 Eurich had his first one man show at the Goupil Gallery in Mayfair, arranged with the help of the sculptor and designer Eric Gill. By now he had left Yorkshire to live in London, but he continued to return to the Bradford and Ilkley area throughout his life producing more images of our region.
A fascinating oil painting of 1940 (the year in which Eurich also became an official war artist) appears to show skaters on the Tarn on Ilkley Moor. Though the title of the work makes no reference to the town, it is probable that the location is Ilkley. The work was sold at auction in Canada in 2008.
One of Eurich’s great loves was drawing. The Altar Rock, Ilkley (1978) is a beautifully detailed drawing in pencil and crayon on paper from later on in Eurich’s career. As a young man he had been fascinated by drawing and had won many drawing prizes at college. However drawing was not a viable way to make a living and by necessity he had had to undertake work in other mediums. This is an exceptional drawing that demonstrates what a skilled draughtsman Eurich was, and also how his love of drawing stayed with him throughout his whole career.
A painting of 1972 – 3, Blackstone Beck, is another of Eurich’s Yorkshire scenes, possibly depicting Backstone Beck on Ilkley Moor. The stylised trees perch precariously on the brink of a steep incline and we can sense the stream rushing by below. This seems to be a depiction of the area where the Beck cuts down through the trees before meeting Hangingstone Road.
During the 1980s Eurich painted several more Ilkley scenes. The Gasworks, Ilkley, 1982 painted in oil on board, shows the old gasworks in the distance, with a view of the River Wharfe in the foreground. The gasworks were located on the site of Booths supermarket. Bridge on the Wharfe was painted in the same year and may be of the suspension bridge crossing the river behind the cemetery. This painting and other later paintings of Eurich’s (for example River Wharfe 1986, oil on canvas) demonstrate again an ability to embrace different techniques and methods – these works are impressionistic in style.
Richard Eurich’s work deserves more attention. He was an artist of incredible imagination, unusual, diverse and constantly open to new ideas. Highly regarded as one of the Second World War artists of merit, he is also recognised for his great contribution to British Surrealism. The works we have looked at here are just a small part of his huge output, more of which can be seen on his official website:
Helen Etchell – September 2015
With thanks to Julia Sorrell, Tim Edwards at Westwood Lodge, Alan Richards at Cliffe Castle, Keighley for their help with the research for this article.
-  Richard Eurich (1903 – 1992) Visionary Artist, Edward Chaney and Christine Clearkin, Paul Holberton Publishing 2003, p7