County Down

by Julius Olsson


DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 30.0 x 40.0 in./ 76.2 x 101.6 cm
SIGNATURE: Signed lower left
MEDIUM: Oil on canvas

Catalogue No: 4479 Categories: ,

County Down is by the acclaimed British Impressionist painter Julius Olsson, and was painted on one of his many trips to Northern Ireland, a landscape that he found to be very inspiring. This work demonstrates a sensitive understanding of the qualities of light that occur at the end of the day, and a great command over paint and brush. The work depicts a soft sunset over the Irish hills, from the opposite side of the bay. A small yacht can be seen in the distance. The loose brushstrokes clearly demonstrate Olsson’s interest in Impressionism, as do the romantic colours and natural subject matter, which are especially reminiscent of Monet’s work.


Private Collection, United Kingdom

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Julius Olsson was known for having been a larger than life character, and was described by art magazine The Studio as “a big man with a big heart, who paints big pictures with big brushes in a big studio.” He was pivotal to the second wave of artistic immigration to St. Ives in the 1890s, and painted in the late Impressionist style, akin to the early paintings by Henry Moore.


Despite having no formal training, Olsson made a successful career as a British maritime artist, and was also a keen yachtsman; he spent most summers on his boat, and The Studio commented that ‘He knows the way from the Scillies to the Isle of Wight as most men know their way to the nearest railway station.’ He was born in Islington, London, to a Swedish father and an English mother.


According to one source, in St Ives, with his artist wife Kathleen, he had designed and set up home at what was until recently (2014) the St Eia Hotel. St Eia is situated with views North to St Ives Harbour and round to the east overlooking Carbis Bay, and during their time there it was to house a studio and become a school of art.  Tovey describes well how immensely Olsson contributed to many aspects of creative and social life in St Ives, and how he remained supportive and connected to the art colony for the rest of his life. His old studio, the vast Number 5, Porthmeor Studios became STISA’s first dedicated gallery space. Elsewhere it is stated that (after leaving St Ives) he married Edith Ellison in 1925. Edith was the daughter of an Irish horse breeder, and after the marriage he made frequent painting trips both to Ireland and to Sweden.


Olsson’s first major exhibition was a painting in (the still extant) Newlyn Gallery, in 1887, where he continued to sell work throughout his life. He became was an important figure in the St Ives school of artists where, from circa 1890 to 1912, despite having had no artistic training himself, he taught alongside Louis Grier and later Algernon Talmage. His students included; Mary McCrossan and Richard Hayley Lever, Reginald Guy Kortright, Emily Carr, John Anthony Park, Charles David Jones Bryant and Robert Borlase Smart, among others. His work was first accepted at the Royal Academy in 1890, and he joined the New English Art Club in 1891. In 1912 he returned to London. In 1914 Olsson was elected an associate of the RA, and became a full member in 1920.


During the First World War the artist served as a lieutenant in the RNVR, giving him the opportunity to paint naval ships in action. In the Second World War Olsson was bombed out of his London studio. He died at Dalkey, near Dublin, in 1942. His works can now be found in galleries and museums all over the UK.




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