Percy Craft (1856 – 1934) ‘Empty Chair’

Oil on Canvas
H100 x W125cm (H 39 3⁄8 x W 49 1⁄4 in)

Provenance: Private Collection, USA

London, Royal Academy, 1888, no. 100.
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, 1888

Percy Craft was born in Kent and studied at Heatherley’s then at the Slade under Edward Poynter and Alphonse Legros. Like many other contemporary painters he headed to the westernmost point of the Cornish peninsular in the search of subject and community. Unlike many others congregating in Newlyn he is not believed to have travelled overseas by this time.

In 1885, he moved with his wife Anne Tidy to Newlyn, where they lodged in the same house as Stanhope Forbes. They became deeply involved in the local art colonies and were instrumental in setting up the Newlyn Industrial Project which fostered craft and artisanal training for local people.

Works like ‘The Empty Chair’ also showcase Craft’s gift for composition and painterly effects, the brush drawn across the surface of the drying paint to create light effects that surround the tableau as well as the anecdotal detail with the impression of suffused light. All of which elucidate his evident empathy for contemporary Cornishmen and their own struggles. His command of coastal atmospheric and narrative details reached perhaps its greatest expressions in ‘The Empty Chair, 1888” a sombre and touching insight into the sudden changes wrought on families by death and one more typically imagined in the depiction of the bereaving widow, and ‘Tucking a School of Pilchards’ (1897, Penlee House), a huge documentary canvas which relates directly to the Newlyn riots of 1896 and includes portraits of the local fishermen involved.