Julius Olsson RA NEAC (1864-1942) ‘Winter Gale on the Cornish Coast’

c. 1909
oil on canvas
h127 x w180cm

Literature
Studio Magazine, January 1910, Vol. XLIII, no. 202, p.277 (illus.) Royal Academy Illustrated, 1919, p.82

Description
A larger than life character, described by The Studio magazine as “a big man with a big heart, who paints big pictures with big brushes in a big studio,” Julius Olsson was pivotal to the second wave of artistic immigration to St. Ives in the 1890s.[1] His work was first accepted at the Royal Academy in 1890, and he joined the New English Art Club in 1891. With little or no formal artistic training himself, he set up studio on Porthmeor beach, St. Ives. This became, in 1895, the premises for the School of Landscape and Marine Painting. Teaching in conjunction with Louis Grier and Algernon Talmage, Olsson soon built a reputation that attracted aspiring marine painters from far-afield, including Mary McCrossan and the Australian-American artist Richard Hayley Lever.

Of Swedish descent, Olsson was portrayed by contemporary reviewers as a latter-day Viking, roaming abroad on the briny-deep with paintbrush and easel, capturing images of the sea in all its many moods. He was indeed an accomplished yachtsman who knew “the coast from the Scillies to the Isle of Wight as well as most men know their way to the nearest Railway station.”[2] There was one time of day, however, which Olsson was felt to have made peculiarly his own: “It is that tender half-time between day and night, when the moon, as yet but a pale disc, peeps over the distant horizon and lays a ribbon of golden sheen across the pale waters.”[3] A painting of this subject, Moonlit Shore, (London, Tate Britain) was acquired by the Chantrey Bequest from the Royal Academy in 1911, at the height of Olsson’s popularity.

In 1914 Olsson was elected ARA and full membership followed in 1920. During the First World War he served as lieutenant in the RNVR, giving him the opportunity of painting naval ships in action. [4] He married Edith Ellison in 1925, the daughter of an Irish horse breeder, and thereafter he made frequent painting trips to Ireland and Sweden, always concentrating on the effects of light on water, which he increasingly came to see as a type of natural canvas. He died at Dalkey, near Dublin, in 1942 having been bombed out of his London studio.

[1] See A.G. Folliott Stokes in The Studio, 1910, Vol. 48, pp.274-83 [2] ibid. p.283
[3] ibid. p.282
[4] See Royal Academy Illustrated, 1919, p.82

 

On a Painting by Julius Olsson, RA.,

Over what bridge-fours has that luscious sea
Shone sparkling from its frame of bronz’d gold
Since waves of foaming opalescence roll’d
One warm spring morning back in twenty-three,
All through the day, from breakfast-time till tea,
When Julius Olsson, feeling rather cold,
Packed up his easel and, contented, stroll’d
Back to St. Ives, its fisher-folk and quay.
Over what bridge-parties, cloche-hat, low-waist,
Has looked that seascape, once so highly prized,
From Lenygon-green walls, until, despised—
“It isn’t art. It’s only just a knack”—
It fell from grace. Now, in a change of taste,
See Julius Olsson slowly strolling back.

Sir John Betjeman, CBE, (1906-1984)

£22,500

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