LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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ROBERT GRIFFIER (London c.1692 – after 1762)

Fall Landscape in England with an Impending Storm, circa 1735

oil on panel

11 x 15 1/2 inches          (28 x 39.1 cm.)


PROVENANCE

Anonymous sale, Christie’s, London, April 8, 1932, lot 17 where purchased by

A. Duits

 

This remarkable landscape, the trees rimed with frost and lashed by a violent gale seems eerie and dreamlike, and the vivid colouring and the twisting forms of the tendril-like branches suggest some fantasy of the painter’s imagination. But this dramatic vision is rooted in his experience and close observation of the English landscape. The mountainous hills, so like the stern peaks of the West Riding in the background of Robert Griffier’s View of Gisburne Park, Yorkshire c.1735 (Christopher Hindley Collection), and the attention lavished on the details of the farmstead in the foreground - the great bundles of firewood collected in the orchard and the wood shoring protecting the trunk of the fruit tree - support Waterhouse’s judgment that Robert Griffier and his brother John were ‘the first decent topographical artists, with a bent for real landscape working in England.’[1]

Robert Griffier travelled widely in England depicting his patrons’ houses and estates from Surrey in the south through Derbyshire to Yorkshire and Lancashire in the north, and this painting marks a powerful emotional response to the wild landscape of northern England. It could be an imaginary view, but contrived prospects tend to be overloaded with picturesque elements; the spare and functional buildings here suggest the business end of one of the great estates Griffier was visiting at the time. The untidy orchard and the long ramshackle shelter – perhaps for the fruit harvest that would have been recently picked and despatched – feel like a true glimpse of a working farm captured in the lull just as the harvest has finally ended and the first presentiment of winter is being felt. Contrasting with the formal estate of regimented avenues, parterres and geometric groves where all Nature is bent to his patron’s will, Griffier here conjures a tangling chaos whose only architect is the harsh autumn gale.

Certainly this painting’s most remarkable - almost revolutionary - aspect lies in its evocation of the weather and the season. Decorative winter landscapes were produced in large numbers by the Griffier brothers and their studio as examples of genre, most showing skaters and revellers in an imaginary setting. John Griffier the Younger’s most famous example produced in England, The Frost Fair on the Thames, 1739 (Guildhall City Art Gallery) combines genre with topography but like the other examples it is a teaming study of human activity. In the present painting by contrast, all human labor has been abandoned for the moment, and the weather alone is the subject. The trees which are starting to lose their leaves set the scene for the onset of the Fall. The clear sky just clouding over and the frost trailing the edges of the branches and fences evokes the first chill of the season. The foreground plants and leaves might already be flattened by the frost but it is the unseen wind blasting the entire prospect that animates the composition. It brings on the storm clouds entering at the left, buffets the sturdy trees in the foreground and as far as the eye can see bends saplings almost double. Audaciously, people are wholly excluded, and in their place the trees’ anthropomorphized contortion provides the emotional charge in the painting.

Robert Griffier worked very closely with John his elder brother. Both of them painted in the same remarkable range of genres and styles as John their father, and like him lived and worked both in England and Holland. In addition to views of country houses, they painted prospects of London and Greenwich, views of Windsor Castle, echoes of their father’s Rhineland caprices painted in the style of Herman Saftleven as well as bird paintings in the style of

Pieter Casteels. Vertue records that Robert could produce an elegant pastiche of David Teniers the Younger, [2] while his masterpiece Regatta on the Thames (Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry) painted in 1748 demonstrates a very able study of the style of Canaletto who had arrived in London two years previously. Distinguishing the work of the two brothers is problematic in the case of unsigned works. As John Hayes observes: 

‘Almost certainly the two brothers had a joint studio: the similarity of their production is difficult to explain otherwise… Even at his best, however, John was not nearly as distinguished an artist as his brother.’ [3]

Not only does the present work display the compositional sophistication and refinement of execution typical of Robert Griffier’s work but its striking high-keyed metallic palette reflects signed works by Robert Griffier - compared with John Griffier’s often more muted tonality.

 

 

[1]Professor Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530 – 1790, London, 1953 p.114.

[2] Walpole Society, XVIII 1929 – 1930, George Vertue Diaries I, p.128.

[3] John Hayes, “A Panorama of the City and South London from Montagu House by Robert Griffier,” in Burlington Magazine, September, 1965, CVII, no. 750, p.458.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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