The Golden Age of British Watercolors, 1790-1910

Albert Goodwin (English, 1845-1932)
Hastings at Sunset

11 3/8 x 17 3/8 in.
Chazen Museum of Art, Joseph F. McCrindle Collection, 2009.13.68

Rolling clouds obscure a sunset over the valleys and above the village of Hastings. The eye is drawn into this atmospheric painting, which has a compelling visual depth.

Albert Goodwin (1845-1932) was a painter of British scenes, historical buildings, and landscapes. Building up his paintings with layers of washes, he created meteorological effects that left the shapes of his subjects somewhat undefined and emphasized striking color combinations in order to create an emotional response in the viewer. For Goodwin and his nineteenth- century British contemporaries, this response would have likely included sentimental feelings toward Britain and nostalgia for its historical and storied past.

The subject of Hastings at Sunset appears at first to be a tranquil town, nestled within a quiet valley with the sea not far beyond [Fig. 1] While there is certainly a meditative quality to the piece, it is important not to forget that near this view, the Battle of Hastings solidified the Norman's victory in 1066 and changed British history. This painting is an example of the glorification of British history that was both popular and considered central to a proper education at the time.

This theme of the British historical landscape runs through much of Goodwin's oeuvre. He produced numerous images of rural and urban churches, ruins, and seascapes of the country, including other scenes of Hastings [Fig. 2]. Eventually he also traveled and painted throughout Europe.

The idea of a uniquely British school and British style of art was heavily promoted during the nineteenth century. Various institutions greatly desired to distance themselves from France and the rest of the European continent, for a range of social and political reasons. Watercolor as a medium began to be understood as a primarily British technique. That so much of his work celebrates specifically British sites, and that these places were represented in watercolor [Fig. 3], may be the primary reason that Goodwin was consistently praised by the art critics of the time.

Albert Goodwin's style has an ease to it, and his goal was to recreate the mood or effect and not a detailed representation of his subjects. This approach in part relates to the Victorian aesthetic ideal of the "sublime." A sublime image transported the viewer intellectually or emotionally to an intense state, usually one of wonder or fear. The sublime was thought to be a genuine byproduct of nature itself, and to the Victorians the ability to capture the sublime in a work was a mark of great talent. A simplicity in composition, like that in Hastings at Sunset, lends itself to producing the sublime, such as a storm rolling over a vast landscape or a historical site shown eerily at dusk. Hastings itself was a site that invoked the sublime, with its distant echoes of dramatic violence. The intensity of the color in Hastings at Sunset also illustrates Goodwin's interest in exploring new ways of producing bright tints. He was very proficient with pastel and sometimes touched up his watercolors with pastel, which may be the case in Hastings at Sunset.

Goodwin was hailed for his ability as a draughtsman, and records exist for the sale of his sketches. These were likely preliminary sketches for paintings or complete works in their own right. The availability of his sketches may indicate something surprising about the artist's creative process. While his paintings appear to have been done spontaneously and on-site, it is likely that he made preliminary sketches outdoors and then produced the final paintings in his studio. The effect of having created a work on site was very appealing to art consumers at the time.

Rachel Klimczyk

Fig. 1. Hastings Old Town with View Toward Ocean and All Saints' Church, postcard, 1900.

Fig. 2. Albert Goodwin, Hastings, no date. Watercolor.

Fig. 3. Albert Goodwin, Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire, 1896


Anon. "Art Chronicle". Portfolio. January, 1893. Issue 24. No pagination.

Anon. "The Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours". British Architect. 29:19. May 1888. pp. 333-334.

Anon. "The Society of British Artists". The Academy. April, 1876. Issue 205. pp. 341-342.

Anon. "Two Minor Exhibitions". The Academy. December, 1890. Vol. 973. p. 617.

Burke, Edmund. The Sublime. 1757.

The Works of Albert Goodwin. (1970). London, Oscar and Peter Johnson, Ltd.

Kriz, K. Dian. "French Glitter or English Nature: Representing Englishness in Landscape Painting". Art in Bourgeois Society, 1790-1850. 1998.

Monkhouse, Cosimo. British Contemporary Artists. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899.

The Works of Albert Goodwin. London: Oscar and Peter Johnson, Ltd., 1970.




Director's Foreword

History of Watercolor

Watercolor as a Medium

Networks of Artists

Subject Matter and Themes

Further Reading

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