The New Curate
Research by Marjorie Gregson
Percy Robert Craft was an accomplished painter in watercolours, oils and pastels and also a professional actor and arts administrator.
He was born in Kent on 3 April 1856, the son of Elizabeth and John Craft. He was educated privately and then attended University College London before studying art at Heatherley’s and the Slade, receiving gold, silver and bronze medals. There is no evidence that he travelled abroad to study, unlike many of his contemporaries.
He married Alice Elizabeth Tidy in 1881 and in 1885 he and his wife travelled to Newlyn, lodging with the artist, Stanhope Forbes. He was later involved, with his wife, in the setting up and organising of the Newlyn Industrial Class project (responsible for the making of Newlyn Copper) and helping to run the Fisherman’s Rest. He and his wife, who led needlework classes, were both very generous with their time and artistic gifts.
Newlyn School 1882-c1900
The artists were based in the fishing village of Newlyn in West Cornwall, where they found companionship, a mild climate and the opportunity for using local people as models. Each year throughout the 1880s and 1890s an important group of paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy came from Newlyn. Although Craft often exhibited at the Academy he often struggled to sell his work.
In 'The Cornishman' newspaper of 4 September 1884 it was noted there were no less than twenty- seven artists living in Newlyn.
Craft was an excellent actor and was the organiser and director of the Newlyn artists’ informal dramatic society. He also sang, gave recitals, wrote poetry and music and was a regular reader in his local church.
Craft is also known to have visited the Middle East where he obtained material for many of his later works.
In 1899 he was living in Buckden, Huntingdonshire, where the couple remained for six years, returning for another period during WW1. A local newspaper commented, 'Few people have left behind them at Buckden a happier memory than Mr and Mrs Craft'.
In 1905 he moved to London where he was particularly active in the organisation of exhibitions. He was the organising Secretary of the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists (RBC), where he encouraged many Newlyn artists to join him.
Other memberships included:
Passmore Edwards Art Gallery, Newlyn (Organising Secretary)
NSA (Newlyn Society of Artists)
Fine Art Section of the British Trade Exhibition, Buenos Aires,1931 (Organising Secretary)
Imperial Arts League (part founder and Honorary Secretary)
STISA (St Ives Society of Artists)
RBA (Royal Society of British Artists)
Craft had exhibitions at The Royal Academy, The Old Salon Paris, The Walker Art Gallery Liverpool,
and The New Gallery London as well as Manchester, Birmingham and other provincial towns.
His principal works include:
Tucking a School of Pilchards on the Cornish Coast
A Good Haul
Tea Time at the 'Mays', Cambridge
Shipping by an English Pier at Dusk
The Pathos of War
The Ancient Pageant of the Boar’s Head
He died on 26 November 1934, aged 78, in St George's Hospital, London, his wife having pre-deceased him in 1932.
Craft exhibited several pictures in the Newlyn Gallery in 1904, and The Cornishman described each of them in its review of 24 March entitled, 'At The Newlyn Gallery; From Mount’s Bay to London Town':
'It was a real pleasure to see Percy R. Craft, R.B.A, at Newlyn again, after an absence of some years, for he brought to mind the Newlyn colony in its palmiest days. All of his works are most commendable
In “The New Curate” Mr. Craft has also another charming little scene to delineate. Again he transports us to a garden, but this time to a modern garden, with a well-kept lawn and nicely-laid-paths. Yet he has not forgotten to enliven the canvas with brilliant hues of various flowers. Three girls are waiting on the edge of the lawn, tennis racquets in hand, waiting to greet the new curate, who is just leaving the house, accompanied by the girls’ mother. The poise of the maidens shows all the abandon, natural to the effervescent joyousness of girlhood, and yet budding womanhood, is skilfully suggested; for the advent of a young and handsome curate opens up a wide vista of possibilities, and each of the girls is wondering whether at some future time she will not become the mistress of his heart and hand.”
The New Curate has recently been cleaned and conserved thanks to a kind and generous personal donation by Peter Bretherton, born in New Longton near Preston and past President of The Lawn Tennis Association. He is an art lover and was particularly interested in this painting because it depicts a tennis scene. During conservation some of the colours which had flaked off were found to be from paints bought in the Middle East and, as we know, Craft had travelled there to paint.
100 years in Newlyn: Diary of a Gallery
Cornwall Artists Index
Who’s Who 2014
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The Lamorna Society