Shore Scene with Boats, Clovelly Harbour, Devon
Research by Susan Cannon
Acc No 99
Artist Samuel Towers
Artist dates 1862–1943
Size 14 x 23 in (35.6 x 58.4 cm)
Date painted Unknown
Donor Mrs S E Crompton,
25 Ansdell Road North
Lytham St Annes
Date donated 24 April 1944
Samuel Towers, RCamA (Royal Cambrian Arts Academy), was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1862. A tailor by profession, he trained at Bolton College of Art and later abandoned tailoring to become a full time artist.
He was one of the original members of the Bolton Art Club and exhibited at its first exhibition in 1882. He exhibited again two years later and also at The Royal Academy, showing a picture of Bolton seen from Queen's Park. Subsequently, he had pictures in many art galleries including The Walker, Liverpool and Manchester City. He also became a member of the Royal Cambrian Academy, whose headquarters are at Plas Mawr in Conway, North Wales. In 1906 he had a special exhibition at the Mere Hall Art Gallery, Bolton, of 18 pictures illustrating Tennyson's Poem 'The Brook'. His subjects were taken from districts around Bolton, or areas such as North Wales, the Lake District and the Vale of Evesham, where he moved in 1907, leaving Conway to live in a 14th century black and white cottage in Harvington.
He was commissioned by Deane Church, Bolton, to paint almost life size portraits of noted English churchmen such as The Venerable Bede, St Aidan, Stephen Langton, Wycliff, Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer and George Marsh, the Deane Martyr.
Below is Tower’s painting of Bolton from Queens Park. Executed from a vantage point, it shows how Bolton would have looked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the mills were fully functioning and prosperous. In 1910 the painting was stowed away at Mere Hall, now Bolton’s Births, Deaths and Marriage Department. A watercolour of the same scene was apparently in existence at that time (1910), owned by a Mr J R Bridson. (3)
Another interesting painting by Samuel Towers, which references a famous Bolton son, is The Village of Firwood Fold, where Samuel Crompton (1753-1827), inventor of the Spinning Mule, was born.
It is also worth mentioning that the lady who donated Clovelly Harbour was also named Crompton.
On moving to Harvington his subjects included many old watermills, which he enjoyed painting. He was a picturesque old figure who spent much of his spare time playing his beloved harpsichord and concertina, writing music and poetry, as well as conducting a male voice choir which was formed in the village. (4) He remained in his remote, ancient cottage, smothered in roses and honeysuckle, in the beautiful Vale of Evesham until he died in June 1943 and was buried in the village churchyard. (5)
In an obituary, W Whitehead, a Bolton friend and prominent patron, writes,
'I have known Sam Towers upwards of 60 years and so can speak with authority of his great ability as an artist. He was devoted to his art, and even in the summer holidays of his younger days, subjects for his brush were his first consideration. In many directions he was a student and a thinker, holding views and strong opinions of his own from which no argument would move him. While he had of necessity to sell the products of his brush, he was often loath to do so. I myself have thought had he been blessed with even a little more of a commercial mind and pushful nature, he could easily have reached an eminence in the world of art, even beyond that attained with the Royal Cambrian Academy, of which he was so worthy a member. For many, Sam Towers will live long in the treasured works that he leaves'. (6)
In the St Ives Harbour composition, Towers paints the enclosed harbour looking from the pier head back towards the picturesque cluster of buildings along the narrow promenade, including The Church of St La's, which now contains the Madonna and Child sculpted by Dame Barbara Hepworth (1953) in memory of her son, who was killed whilst serving with the RAF. (12)
In the painting pace and depth are created by the clearly defined form of the two boats and their shadows, which are the focal point in the foreground of the painting. The interlinking and repeating of the smaller boats and their upright masts lead the viewer to the right of the scene and back inland to the shoreline, which is painted in a more impressionistic style, expressing space and distance. The distant buildings of the harbour fill the skyline, containing and holding the viewer within the centre of the composition. The rhythmical repetitive line of the masts on the right, connecting the background to the foreground again, expresses both three-dimensional space and movement. The rope mooring the boats in the foreground loops the viewer’s eye across the calm stretch of sea to the small boat on the edge of the canvas. Its stern points upwards and across, connecting the eye to the centre boat, so creating a sense of calm, gentle movement around the work.
The artist signature is clearly identical to that on Clovelly Harbour, although no date is visible.
The spreading of the railways, not only to the cities and holiday resorts of Britain but also out to the rural countryside, meant that places such as the Lake District and the wilds of Wales became popular destinations, particularly with Manchester and Liverpool artists who could now transport their materials more easily. (11) In 1881 The Cambrian Arts Academy was founded, mainly by English painters based in Conway, who wanted a centre of excellence for the arts in Wales that would be comparable to those in England and Scotland. Since Towers had already exhibited at The Royal Academy and had moved to Conway it is probable that he was involved with setting up what became the RCAA, The Royal Cambrian Academy of Art, alongside Henry Clarence Whaite who led the group. Founded in 1882 by Royal Charter, by command of Queen Victoria, its present patron is Charles, Prince of Wales. (12)
In Towers’s painting of Clovelly Harbour we view the scene from the position of the shore-line on the beach looking towards the moored fishing boats and the open sea beyond. The harbour wall cuts sharply across to the centre of the painting drawing the viewer across the composition to the sea beyond, so creating a sense of deep space in an otherwise shallow perspective. The dynamic shapes of the sails and masts create a rhythmical movement across the picture, taking the eye across, up and down as the ropes lead the viewer in and out, emphasising space and movement. The apparently abandoned boats are in a carefully contrived composition created by an obviously well trained eye and mind. (9)
It is understood that Towers chose his holidays according to the subject he wished to paint. He toured the southern coastal fishing harbours and resorts which, with the ever-expanding railway network, was more convenient. Indeed, he would have been following in the footsteps of previous artists such as J W M Turner, who also sketched and painted at Clovelly, Clovelly From Bucks (1811). (7)
Clovelly was also made famous by the writer, Charles Kingsley, who lived there as a child from 1831-1836 when his father was a Minister. It is mentioned in Kingsley’s novel 'Westward Ho!' as well as by Charles Dickens in 'Message From The Sea'.
Clovelly still remains a popular destination with its many wattle and daub cottages and narrow winding streets. (8)
(2) BBC Your Paintings
(9) Clovelly Harbour, S Towers, Lytham St Annes (Lancashire) Borough Art Collection, British and Irish Paintings in Public Collections by Christopher Wright (2006), see in Google Clovelly Harbour by Samuel Towers)