The Old Mill, Lamorna

by Samuel John Lamorna Birch


DIMENSIONS: 38.10 x 55.88 cms / 15 x 22 ins
SIGNATURE: Signed (lower left)
MEDIUM: Oil on board


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    Catalogue No: 6840 Categories: ,

    Samuel John Birch was a leading figure in the second generation of the Newlyn School. He began his love affair with West Cornwall in the late 1880s, settling in Lamorna Valley in 1892. So taken with the area, in 1895 he adopted the name ‘Lamorna’ to distinguish himself from fellow artist Lionel Birch, an idea that was suggested to him by Stanhope Forbes.

    Lamorna provided Birch with a never ending range of landscape subjects set against the bright light of this relaxed atmospheric fishing village. The Old Mill is one such work inspired by the natural beauty of the valley. This painting celebrates the calm serenity of the English countryside with its harmonious colour palette and undefined soft edges. Birch’s use of vivid, and almost ethereal colours, in the scene provide a real feeling of the bright heat of the midday sun. The reflections caused by the scattered light across the water create a wonderful sense of gentle movement. This works perfectly with the broad brushstrokes used on the trees and background that give a diagonal flow throughout the painting.

    Birch was greatly praised for both his oil and watercolour paintings and regularly displayed his work in highly regarded Institutions. He was made a full Royal Academician in 1932 and in his distinguished career he exhibited over 200 works at the RA.

    Private collection, United Kingdom

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    Lamorna Birch was a renowned landscape painter in both oil and watercolour and a prominent member of the second generation of the Newlyn School of Artists.

    He was born in Egremont in Cheshire in June 1869, and as a boy moved to Manchester and later to Lancashire working in a mill, painting at dawn and sunset. He was constantly torn between his love for art and fishing. He was self-taught in art but did spend a year at the Atelier Colarossi in Paris 1895-6.

    From 1889 he regularly visited Cornwall and came under the influence of Stanhope Forbes, who was regarded as the greatest of the Newlyn School of artists, a group who settled in Newlyn because of the bright light and the relaxed atmosphere of the fishing village. Although being a near contemporary of the early Newlyn artists, Birch took an independent stance by living along the road at Lamorna; because there was another artist in Newlyn named Lionel Birch, John Birch added the name Lamorna to his known and from 1896 he even signed his work S. J. Lamorna Birch.

    Lamorna was to provide Birch with an endless range of landscape subjects, especially because of his passionate interest in rivers. He set up a studio near the river at Lamorna, only half a mile from Lamorna Cove. He later moved to Flagstaff Cottage at the head of the bay. He attracted other artists to the area and received a letter asking for art lessons; the student was named Emily Vivian, whom he later married. They had two daughters.

    Birch exhibited very widely – 146 paintings at the Royal Academy and 287 at the Royal Society of Watercolour Artists alone – being elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1934, and he was a very popular and gregarious fellow. In Cornwall he was friendly with other artists, carrying out an amusing correspondence with Stanhope Forbes, and he was especially friendly with the famous Laura Knight who often came round to the Birch’s house with her husband Harold, also an artist. Birch’s elder daughter, Mornie, has related to us how Laura would sketch her and her sister before they went to bed.Laura Knight wrote extensively about Birch, extracts of which were copied in our 1986 catalogue.

    Birch was a passionate fisherman, and is sometimes called the “The Fisherman Artist”. Each summer he and his wife (whom he called “mouse”) went on a river-based holiday, usually in Scotland but sometimes in Austria. We have in our possession some wonderful contemporary photographs of Birch in his fishing attire, and also with his easel set up by a river bed. He was a very keen traveller, visiting New Zealand and Australia in 1937. In 1947, two paintings by Birch were presented by the people of Cornwall to HM Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of their marriage. When Lamorna Birch died in 1955 The Times obituary commented: “Birch, who was an athletic bearded man, looking very much younger than his years with the bright eyes and eager manner of a terrier, was the best of companions in any grade of society.”

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