According to “A Catalogue of Birmingham & West Midlands Painters of the Nineteenth Century,” J.W. Hamilton Marr (1846-1913), exhibited 199 works at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, “the majority portraying the coast and its activities.” This oil painting shows, the artist wrote on a label on the back, a scene from a North Wales coastline.
Though he lived in inland places like Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon, he was often drawn to the west coast of Britain, including Wales, which accounts for his being an Associate member of the Royal Cambrian Academy (ARCA), the title he added to his signature in his paintings, as with this one. He also painted landscapes and rural and river scenes, and many of these were exhibited all over the country, from Glasgow’s Institute of Fine Art to Manchester’s City Art Gallery to most of the important royal artist societies in London. His wife, Sophie Marr, is listed as a figure painter.
This oil painting is exactly the type of coastal scene that Hamilton-Marr enjoyed creating. The depth and drama conveyed in this piece cannot be understated. Considering its small size (6 by 9 inches), it has a powerful way of drawing the viewer in to the scene. Even the complex lighting of the sky is exquisitely reflected in the water as well as touching in unexpected places like the edges of the boat’s sails, the clothing of the figures and the rocks. There is an old master, almost religious feeling in the manner in which the clouds and the light are represented. It is signed, “Hamilton Marr, ARCA,” in the lower left corner.
The painting is framed in its original wood and gesso frame that was hand-painted with a copper metallic paint. There is a wide gilded slip that keeps the oil painting from the original glass. The frame was no doubt chosen by the artist himself as he inscribed it on the framer’s label on the back, “Near Llanabar, North Wales.” He also signed his name here, again, with ARCA after the signature. The label is very special, reading: “Established 80 Years, W. Tomlin, Successor to the Late Mr. John Hare. Carver and Gilder. Picture Dealer and Frame Maker. 25, Digbeth, nr., Bullring, Birmingham. Oil Paintings Cleaned and Restored. Mildew Taken out of Prints.”
Because it has been covered with glass since probably the day it was finished, it is in excellent condition.
The wonderful custom-made frame, probably designed by the artist (and the one who chose the unusual color for it,) does show losses to the elaborate gesso work. This is not unusual for this type of frame, especially considering its age. Because this frame was made in collaboration between the artist and the gallery, I wanted to keep it with this remarkable piece of art.
Including the frame, it measures 16 inches wide by 13-1/2 inches high.
“Near Llanabar, North Wales,” by J.W. Hamilton Marr
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