In the sleepy English town of Beverley ,in East Yorkshire , there is a beautiful legacy to a local artist.
Frederick W. Elwell was born in 1870 in northern town of Beverley, Yorkshire. The son of James Elwell, wood carver and Mayor of town, Frederick is known for his portraits, still life and landscapes, largely depicting life in Northern Yorkshire, although he studied and lived for a time in Lincoln ,Antwerp and Paris.
Most famously Elwell Exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1894 and on his return to Beverley in 1903 he met and later married one of his pupil’s Mary Dawson Bishop (1874–1952) herself also a painter of landscapes and interiors.
My introduction to Elwell was many years ago with his beautiful painting, The First Born (1913), depicting the early days of a newborn, mother and doting father.
The composition centres on a gamekeepers cottage, the gently lit room cradling the scene of a newborn baby, tired mother and young father, just walked in,still wearing his gamekeeper clothing. In his hand a small bouquet of primroses,a flower of spring, and a gesture to his wife,the new mother.
The fabric that swathes the room is soft, light and warm. The window open, the curtain fluttering- this is Spring, a time of renewal and birth. The light is soft and comforting, creating a nurturing scene. The skin tones of the mother blend with the soothing palette. This is a painting of gentle and delicate joy.
So beloved is the work of Elwell , that his local community of Beverley decided to share his work publically within the town surrounds. As you make your way through the streets and marketplace, copies of Elwell’s work adorn the external walls of private residences, park fences and public buildings.
This one work is Maids with Pigeons by Feed (1916), depicting a scene from Elwell’s own home near the North Bar, where his house maids feed the brave pigeons that have snuck through the window seeking food.
On a park fence is another work entitled Harvest Festival Gifts , an undated piece from Elwell. Interestingly, this work has a soft photographic quality, and Elwell was reluctant to use photography as a base for his paintings, on this occasion he did.
Elwell painted the children from a photograph, but painted the harvest gifts in the foreground from a still life arrangement.Quite a feat to combine the still life foreground with a background from a photo, and make the painting look like one uniform piece.
On a back street from the town centre lies another work showing the bredth of Elwell’s compositional range. Brick Bridge Swine Moore (c. 1939-45), depicts a summery scene of a local swimming spot, popular during the second world war.
Apparently, the public baths of Beverley during war time where full of army troops, so Brick Bridge provided a comfortable place for locals to swim. Elwell’s muted earth tones create a relaxed ambiance, with the dotted bright colours of swimming costumes setting a holiday scene beneath a cloudless sky. We would never know that this scene took place in war time.
Frederick Elwell himself was a supporter of local advocates of art and literature, Below we find his own homage to John Edward Champney (1906),
Champney was a Beverley local who found his fortune in the textile mills of London and Halifax before he turned art parton. An avid reader , art and book collector, Champney donated significant funds over his lifetime to the support of the arts in Beverley, as well as bequeathing much of his vast collection of art and books to the town.
Elwell painted Champney’s portrait to commemorate the inauguration of the Beverley Public Library in 1906. This copy of the work now sits fittingly outside the Library and Art Gallery.
Beverley’s pride in their famous local is a wonderful example of public art that commemorates and celebrates local achievement ,while beautifying the community. Locals report Elwell’s art has remained graffiti and damage free since being placed around the town in 2009.