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Sir Alfred East

Sir Alfred East (1844-1913) is one of the most significant figures in English landscape painting in the decades before the First World War. His landscapes caught the mood of times in which there was a growing concern at the rapidity of social change and its impact upon the countryside. He was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, and worked in his brother’s boot and shoe factory as a ‘clicker’ before becoming a sales representative for the company in Glasgow. There he attended evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art. In his late thirties he decided to become a professional artist and in 1882 went to study at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he was much influenced by the Barbizon School of landscape artists.

Around 1884 he and his family moved from Glasgow to North London where they lived until his death. In 1888 he was commissioned to spend six months in Japan by the Fine Art Society. He arrived in Nagasaki in March 1889 and became the first English artist to make Japan the field of an extensive and detailed study in paint. In March 1890, 104 of his paintings of Japanese landscapes and people were exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London.

East continued to travel widely and painted regularly in France, Italy, Spain and North Africa. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1899, having been a regular exhibitor since 1883. In 1906 he was elected President of the Royal Society of British Artists, a position he held until his death. In 1910 he received a knighthood, and a banquet was held in his honour in his native town of Kettering. The Alfred East Gallery, designed by J. A. Gotch, was opened in Kettering on 31 July 1913 by Lord Spencer. East died two months later, but not before he had been elected to full membership of the Royal Academy. A national newspaper commented that it was a ‘fitting end to a brilliant career’.

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Springtime in Cornwall
An oil on board measuring 10” x 14¼”. Signed with initials AE. Inscribed on labels verso: ‘Springtime in Cornwall, Alfred East, 4 Grove End Road, N.W.’ with AE mon. Provenance: sometime with R.S.J. Savage & Son, Northampton (label verso).

The Subject
East’s sister Clara and her family lived at Hayle, near St Ives and it was probably through this connection that East first visited Cornwall in the 1880s. In 1888 he staged an exhibition of Cornish paintings at…

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…the Fine Art Society in London, alongside fellow Kettering artist Thomas Cooper Gotch. He also exhibited ten paintings at the Exhibition of Cornish Artists at Nottingham Castle in 1894. This picture dates from 1893-5, the period East lived at 4 Grove End Road in St John’s Wood, London. The depiction of spring blossom is clearly influenced by his sojourn in Japan, where he made abundant studies of cherry- and plum-blossom. In the centre background of the painting is a Cornish tin mine with its typical tall stack.

Clifford’s Inn, London
An oil on canvas measuring 28” x 36”. Signed Alfred East. Old label verso: “Clifford’s Inn”, by Sir Alfred East. Painted from the garden of the Inn, showing the Inn Hall, and the Church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West.’ Provenance: sold at Sotheby’s in 1988.

The Subject
Clifford’s Inn was an Inn of Chancery which once stood on Clifford’s Inn Passage, off Fleet Street. It was notable for being the first-attested of the Inns of Chancery (1344)…

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…and also the last of the Inns to be dissolved (1903). The buildings of the Inn seen in the painting were demolished in 1934; only the gatehouse survives to this day. The light in the painting falls on the octagonal tower of the Church of St Dunstan in the West (by John Shaw, 1829-33), which is constructed of yellow Ketton stone. St Dunstan is the church of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers (the medieval guild of shoemakers). Alfred East was born the son of a Kettering bootmaker and began his working life in the shoe factory of his elder brother Charles; this church probably had particular associations for him.

View from the Bungalow, Rivington, Lancashire
A watercolour measuring 18¼” x 24¾”. Inscribed verso: ‘From Rivington Pike’. Provenance: purchased from Lady East by Matthew B. Walker of Wolverhampton [label verso signed by Lady East and dated January 1918]. Sometime with Norman R. Nichols, Rosemeade, Hagley Road, Birmingham [2nd label verso].

The Subject
Late in life, East became a friend of William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925), later 1st Viscount…

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…Leverhulme, whose prosperity derived from the manufacture of soap at Port Sunlight. The two men probably met when Lever purchased East’s Japanese painting Haru-no-Yuki (Snow in Spring) in 1906. East stayed with Lever in his bungalow at Rivington in 1909, sketching and painting in the neighbourhood. The bungalow, built in 1901, was burnt down by Suffragettes in 1913. Bolton Art Gallery has a similar scene by East in oil in its collection (Lever was born in Bolton).

Near Rivington, Lancashire
A watercolour measuring 9¾” x 13”. Inscribed in pencil verso: ‘near Rivington, Lancashire’

The Subject
Late in life, East became a friend of William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925), later 1st Viscount Leverhulme, whose prosperity…

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…derived from the manufacture of soap at Port Sunlight. The two men probably met when Lever purchased East’s Japanese painting Haru-no-Yuki (Snow in Spring) in 1906. East stayed with Lever in his bungalow at Rivington (seen on the right of the painting) in 1909, sketching and painting in the neighbourhood. The original bungalow of 1901, known as Roynton Cottage, was burnt down by a Suffragette in 1913 and was re-built.

Landscape with Fisherman
A watercolour measuring 13¼” x 20¼”. Signed indistinctly Alfred East bottom right. Inscribed bottom left: ‘To Mrs. Hurly (?) with Compliments from Alfred EAST’. Label verso: Wm. C. Price, The Art Gallery, 16 Park Lane, Croydon.

The Miller’s Meadow
An etching measuring 17½” x 22”. Signed Alfred East within the plate. Titled ‘The Miller’s Meadow’ in the margin. Painted by Sir Alfred East and etched by Charles Oliver Murray. Issued October 1st 1904 by The Art Union of London, 112 Strand. Printed by F. Goulding, London.

The Subject
The image is a fine example of East’s pastoral scenes with tall trees and sheep. The miller on the right is opening the sluice gates, in order to let water in to power the mill.

St Ives, Cornwall
An etching measuring 12” x 15”. Signed with monogram in the plate. Published by Vervielfaltigende Kunst (The Society for Art), Vienna.

The Subject
St Ives, Cornwall. During the early 20th century, leading art journals around the world published original etchings, lithographs and woodcuts on a regular basis. Some of the greatest prints from this era were commissioned…

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…and published by The Studio in London, Pan in Germany, The Print Connoisseur in America, and Vervielfaltigende Kunst in Vienna. Vervielfaltigende Kunst issued its first original etching in 1871, and continued to publish masterworks by Continental and English artists for sixty years. More internationally focused and less conservative than most of its rival publishers, Vervielfaltigende Kunst became a spearhead for the vibrant experiments of Symbolist, Expressionist and Secessionist artists during the initial decades of the 20th century. Its superb printing techniques were second to none. As a result, Vervielfaltigende Kunst is now regarded as one of the most important fine art publishers of the early 20th century and its prints are eagerly sought after.

The Valley of the Somme
An etching measuring 11¾” x 14½”. Signed with monogram in the plate, and Alfred East in pencil in the lower right margin. Entitled “The Valley of the Somme” in pencil in the upper left margin.

The Subject
This is a poignant depiction of the tranquil valley of the Somme river in France, before it became the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War in July-November 1916…

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…East’s landscapes are famous for having caught the mood of times in which there was growing concern at the rapidity of social change and its impact upon the countryside; here he has captured the landscape of the Somme in a moment before the carnage of war and its aftermath changed it forever.