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Albert Who? The story of Maidstone's Victorian watercolourist.
Albert Goodwin was born in Maidstone in 1845, and grew up to be a prolific artist, specialising in watercolours. He painted over 800 pictures and was compared with Turner. But he's hardly a household name. Why not?
Goodwin was born in Boxley Road, Maidstone, the seventh of nine children. His father was a builder, but on leaving Mr Weekstead's School in Bedford Place, Albert become an apprentice draper. At around this time, his natural flair for drawing was recognised, and he became a pupil of Arthur Hughes, and then of Ford Madox Brown, who was heavily involved with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
By the time Goodwin was 15, he had exhibited an oil painting at the Royal Academy, and was well on the way to forging a career in art. He preferred to use watercolour, and was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours (RWS) in 1871, becoming a full member ten years later.
Ford Madox Brown's contemporaries were some of the leading artists and writers of the age, including William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and the art critic John Ruskin, who became Goodwin's friend and mentor.
Ruskin was a major influence on Goodwin, and in 1872, took him on a three month tour of Europe, the first time Goodwin had ever been abroad. The trip took him to Italy, a country he fell in love with, and returned to several times.
During this trip, Goodwin developed a method of sketching direct from nature, and created several volumes of sketches of characters and scenarios he came across on his travels. He then worked the sketches into a watercolour at a later date, in some cases years later, but usually quite quickly, while his memory was still fresh.
Albert Goodwin and his daughter Edytha
In his diary in 1917 Goodwin wrote “To me this method of work is one of the happy things of the art that I practise, for I get the realisation of a place twice over, and often the memory makes the scene a better one than the first experience.”
Goodwin travelled throughout his life, as well as Italy, he made several trips to Switzerland, and visited Holland and Norway. This was a time when intercontinental travel was becoming increasingly popular, if still beyond the means of many, and Goodwin was lucky enough to visit Egypt, India, America, the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand. He painted all over the UK, including Canterbury, Dover and, of course, Maidstone.
It is widely believed that these experiences are what led to him create such a wide variety of work, and to catch the attention of so many.
Goodwin discovered that watercolour allowed him to complete works quickly, and to work on several different images at the same time. This meant he was incredibly prolific, complete over 800 works, 792 of which he exhibited in his lifetime.
One of Goodwin's greatest influences was JMW Turner, and he was widely regarded as a natural successor. He even wrote in his diary that he thought sometimes that the spirit of Turner "takes over my personality. I often find (or think I find) myself doing the very same things that he seemed to do.”
The Turner influence is probably most obvious in some of his biblical and fantasy works. Like his hero, he painted fictional scenes onto factual landscapes, filling his pictures with people going about their everyday lives. Many of the featured places still stand and are instantly recognisable, a fascinating insight into social history.
Goodwin was still painting well into his 80s, and in his later years, returned to some of his earlier works, to add features, outlines and borders. He devised new ways of working and recreated some of his favourite pieces as commissions for private buyers.
And there lies the clue to why Goodwin is reasonably unknown, despite a huge portfolio of paintings and sketches. Most of his work is in private hands, and rarely comes up for auction, so it is only seen by a select few. Maidstone Museum and the Bentlif Art Gallery houses the largest collection of Goodwin's work in public hands, over 200 watercolours and sketches, but the rest are scattered across the world, to be enjoyed by art collectors. Let's hope one of Kent's best-kept secrets doesn't remain a secret for long.
last updated: 23/12/2009 at 12:51
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