‘The human condition’
Stanhope Forbes is known as the father of the Newlyn School of British painters, named for a tiny fishing village in Cornwall, on the southwestern tip of England. The colony of artists, painting at the turn of the 20th century, were also known as the British impressionists. They had indeed been greatly influenced by French painters of the same era. The methods of applying paint to canvas and the use of light were similar on each side of the English Channel.
But the Newlyn painters were also inspired by the lesser-known French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, who, unlike the French impressionists, used working-class people and their lives as the subjects of his paintings.
“The Newlyn School painters weren’t interested in being commissioned to paint portraits of the wealthy and important people, and they weren’t painting subjects of ancient Roman history,” said Malcolm Warner, former curator of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and an expert on British art. “They were interested in the ordinary scenes of working life in their own time.
“They’re not exactly like Monet or Renoir,” Warner said. “The sympathy they express for the working poor is so powerful, and it adds such a human dimension to the art.”
Which is what caused Gerald Haddock to buy more than one painting. Over the next three years, he would purchase nine more by Forbes and another by fellow Newlyn School artist George Clausen. All of them depicted working-class people and scenes from their lives, many of which took place in or near the remote fishing village.
“Why did I build this collection? Because I was attached to it,” Haddock said. “It evokes an emotional feeling. This particular genre is of the beauty of ordinary people, the beauty of a simple way of life. I got away from the simple way of life in business. It got very complicated. I wouldn’t trade anything for doing that, but that didn’t change my appreciation for this collection.
“It’s a reflection on the human condition, the beauty, the hard work,” he continued. “When I think about my dad, he was crippled and working in a fishing camp, yet I knew he was happy, satisfied every day. I see that in this art.”
Haddock and his wife, Diane, soon visited Cornwall.
“The Newlyn School paintings have a sort of emphatic quality, a sort of moral dimension to them, so the collectors tend to be lovely people, and Gerald and Diane certainly fall into that category,” said Alison Bevan, director of the Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Cornwall. “They asked if we could arrange for them to see some of the places where they painted. It was a wonderful day, standing in the footsteps of the artists.”
At dinner during their visit, a waitress overheard Bevan and the Haddocks discussing the Newlyn painters. The waitress said her grandfather had been one of their models.
“It turns out he was in one of my paintings,” Haddock said. “That was pretty special.”
Bevan came to Fort Worth a few years later to help christen the Haddock collection, now displayed at the lakeside mansion that has been turned into a gallery, the Haddock Center. The center is home to what is probably the finest private collection of Newlyn School works in the United States.
“They’re very well-known in England but almost totally unknown elsewhere,” Warner said. “That’s why Gerald Haddock is so amazing. He has such a passion for such an unusual thing among American collectors. There are thousands of American collectors, and he is probably the only one to have homed in on the Newlyn School.
“The best collectors work that way,” Warner said. “They don’t just collect trophies. They don’t collect to show off. They collect because they have deep feelings for the art.”
‘A collection that people can enjoy’
Two pieces are particularly coveted. One is Son of the Sea.
The other is a painting that Haddock came across while browsing through an art book. The picture,Charity by Walter Langley, is of a beggar boy invited in to eat by a mother and daughter, who look on with sympathy. In his book What Is Art?, the legendary Russian writer Leo Tolstoy celebrates the Langley painting and the emotions it evokes.
“This picture by an artist who, I think, is not widely known, is an admirable and true work of art,” Tolstoy wrote.
Haddock immediately wanted to buy it, contacting Dallas art dealer David Dike to help track it down. Dike said Haddock need not look far.
The work was hanging in a house in Fort Worth and had been part of a divorce settlement. It took Haddock several visits to convince the owner that he would give the painting a good home.
“You know, this painting needs to be among its brothers and sisters,” he told the owner. “She said, ‘Well, what do you intend to do with all this?’ I said, ‘I want this to be a collection that people can enjoy. That’s the ultimate goal.’”
There is now talk in England of his paintings being part of a major Newlyn School exhibition.
“The Penlee House has been hoping to put our collection and Gerald’s in a proper exhibition of the Newlyn School,” Bevan said. “The Royal Academy of Arts is very interested in doing a survey show. There is huge potential for that to happen.”
Standing in front of Charity on a recent day at the lake, Haddock spoke of his own plans, still in the early phases, of sharing his art with the world.
“Tolstoy basically says that fine art needs to be more than beautiful. It needs to evoke feeling,” Haddock said. “We still have the same human condition. We need to make this available to everybody.”
He moved a few steps away to Son of the Sea. Whenever he looks at it, he said, thoughts of his father and his simple upbringing are never far away.
“He would have absolutely loved this,” said Floyd Haddock’s son. “It was part of his life. He would see a different lake, a different time, but the same type of people.”
Tim Madigan, 817-390-7544 Twitter: @tsmadigan