The first British Impressionists were, in the main, painters who returned from training in Paris in the 1880s, several of whom were early members of the New English Art Club. Among them was Edward Stott (1855–1918), the son of a cotton mill and coal mine owner in Rochdale, Lancashire, who had initially gone to work in his father’s business in Manchester. He seems to have found that uninspiring, and started part-time classes at Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.
By 1880, Stott had decided to become a painter, so moved to Paris where he studied under Carolus-Duran, who also taught John Singer Sargent. From there, he progressed to the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied in Alexandre Cabanel’s workshop. In 1883 and 1884 he exhibited a total of four paintings in the Salon. Stott’s major influences appear to have been the social realism of Millet and Corot, and above all the Naturalism of Jules Bastien-Lepage, who died suddenly in late 1884, by which time Stott appears to have returned to England.
In 1885, Stott painted Feeding the Ducks, which is so strongly influenced by Bastien-Lepage that it may have been intended as a tribute. However, Stott’s style is more sketchy in the details of the surroundings, with leaves in the foreground which are no more than marks with the brush.
Stott visited a friend of his from Paris, Philip Wilson Steer, another of the British Impressionists, at his painting retreat in Walberswick on the coast of Suffolk. In 1885, they were both founder members of the New English Art Club.
The Ferry, from 1887, proved an early success, and was exhibited at the New English Art Club that year. This bucolic scene is set in Winchelsea in East Sussex. By this time, Stott had moved to Amberley, at the foot of the South Downs near Arundel in West Sussex, where he lived until his death in 1918.
Although Stott was strongly influenced by Naturalism, he generally avoided showing the reality of the countryside and its people, preferring a softened idealism with endless summers, fine weather, and comforts, much in the way that Samuel Palmer had done earlier in the century. The truth was considerably harsher, with poverty, deprivation and sometimes near-starvation. Amberley had benefitted from the coming of the railway, and had its own station to attract visitors, and to make it easy for Stott to visit London, which would have been impossible for these children.
Stott’s Trees Old and Young, Sprouting a Shady Boon for Simple Sheep from 1888 is unusual as it’s one of his few paintings with a literary reference, in this case its title being a quotation from Keats’ poem Endymion (1818). This was exhibited at the New Gallery in London.
Stott steadily concentrated his painting on the rich, warm light towards dusk. Although it has been claimed that he often painted in front of the motif, most of these paintings appear to have been made in the studio judging by their dense brushwork, and it’s also stated that he didn’t normally work directly from nature.
Home by the Ferry from 1891 shows a mother and three children and their dog calling for the boatman to come and take them across the river at the end of the day.
Changing Pastures (1893) is another pastoral scene lit by the setting sun. The young girl tending these cattle is here moving them from one grazing pasture to the next.
The Labourer’s Cottage – Suppertime from about 1893 is a little later in its timing, when the inside of this family’s thatched cottage has been lit by a lantern. This was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1893.
In The Old Gate (1896) a young lad rides the leader of a team of horses past two girls who are watching him from the gate. This was probably the first of Stott’s paintings to achieve international recognition when it was exhibited in Munich.
The Widow’s Acre from about 1900 shows a younger woman and a girl helping an older woman, presumably the widow of its title, gather potatoes from her cottage garden. It doesn’t tell you that the older woman was reliant on this subsistence agriculture to feed herself.
Stott’s Sunday Morning (1901) is another carefully disguised picture of rural poverty, as the three children eat a meagre breakfast, with their pet dog looking up at them, and their parents sitting behind. The youngest of the three, a boy, appears to be drinking tea from a deep saucer.
Stott’s Peaceful Rest is one of his few paintings which was exhibited at the Royal Academy, in this case in 1902. This shepherd has stolen a moment as his small flock drinks from a pond. He’s lighting a clay tobacco pipe, with his crook resting on his leg. Most of the painting uses a limited palette, with three splashes of colour standing out: the man’s face lit by the flame, the watchful sheepdog behind him, and something blue protruding from the shepherd’s jacket pocket. Behind is a shallow chalk cliff at the edge of the Downs.
Stott also painted in pastels. His view of a Chalk Pit near Amberley from 1903 gives a better idea of the rolling chalkland around the village during the harvest, with cut stooks of grain ready for threshing.
In the early twentieth century, Stott painted a few religious motifs, including this undated pastel nocturne of the Adoration of the Shepherds.
The remaining three paintings I show here are similarly undated.
Echo is an atmospheric view of a pond similar to that in his Peaceful Rest above, this time with two nude women, one of them apparently calling out to hear the echo of her voice. There’s little to link this with the famous myth about Echo and Narcissus, though.
Riding the Farm Horse is a complete contrast in being a rough-hewn oil sketch of a man riding a working horse from a farm. Its style is so contrasting that I’m uncertain that this has been correctly attributed.
Finally, Sheep at Evenfall is a gestural pastel painting of the profound bucolic calm of a flock of sheep grazing near a farm as the sun sinks towards the horizon.
During the years before the Great War, the village of Amberley developed into a small artist’s colony. Towards the end of the war, Stott’s health deteriorated, and he died in his home there in March 1918.