What reminds you of home when you are away?
For me – and I suspect for most natives of Penzance – it is a painting.
The Rain It Raineth by Norman Garstin
When the Royal Academy rejected Norman Garstin’s 1889 painting of Penzance promenade in the rain the artist presented it to the town council. Today it hangs in the town’s Penlee Museum.
You’ll probably find a copy of some sort, a print maybe or a postcard, in most homes in the town and, I’m sure, most who leave takes The Rain It Raineth with them in one form or another. I took a mounted card away to university with me and these days we have a framed print. And the observant will have noticed by now that I borrowed a detail from the painting for my avatar.
Well we do live on the promenade – in one of the small cottages obscured by the wave!
And it isn’t just locals who love the painting. The Penlee Museum is very popular and we often bump into visitors on the prom who, having seen the painting, want to take a photograph from the same angle.
Here’s what it looks like today:
You’ll find Briar and I taking a walk there most days.
But enough rambling, and back to the book and the artist.
I have loved The Rain It Raineth for as long as I can remember. But I knew little about the artist. The Penlee Museum held an exhibition of his work a few years ago. Nothing in quite the same class as The Rain It Raineth, but it left me curious to find out a little more about the Irishman who painted the definitive picture of a Cornish town.
And so, eventually, this book came home from the library.
A detailed and lavishly illustrated biography.
Norman Garstin was born in County Limerick in 1847. As a young man he was not drawn to painting and trained first as an engineer and later, when his skill at drawing and draughtsmanship came to light, he trained as an architect.But when he heard news of the fortunes to be made in the South African diamond fields he travelled there and dug for diamonds for four years. Clearly a man of many talents!
A fall from a horse, causing him to lose the sight in his right eye, finally drew him towards art. He studied under Charles Verlat in Antwerp and Carolus Duran in Paris. And is Paris he crossed paths with Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas, two artists who influences him hugely.
After travelling extensively in Europe Garstin settled in Newlyn and became one of the founders of the Newlyn School. He spent the rest of his life in Newlyn and, just along the coast, in Penzance and it was in those two towns that he would produce his finest work, balancing the realist ethos of the Newlyn school with the influence of the masters he encountered in Paris.
He was not as prolific as many of the artists of the period and supplemented his income by teaching art and drawing. But the book’s many illustrations clearly illustrate that he left behind a wonderful body of work.
The picture that emerges is of a talented, intelligent and well loved man. And a devoted family man. One son was killed in the war, a second son became a respected writer and a daughter became an artist too. A fine legacy.
And yes, still the rain it raineth. Very often but not today!