Cornish Harbour
By Jack Firth

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Year
1991
Media
Watercolour
Subject Matter
Sea and Boats
Reg. Number
P202
Size
64 x 71.5 cm

Jack Firth’s 'Cornish Harbour' is a watercolour, and the medium is well chosen given the subject matter. The beautifull- rendered colours oscillate between light and dark shades of green and blue. Although a limited number of colours are used – mainly blue, green, brown, white and some dabs of red – Firth has managed to create a wide range of tones which enhance this realist portrayal of this Cornish harbour. For instance, the industrial blue painted on the boats is distinct from the natural blue of the sea, tapping into the viewer’s own memories and colour associations. Similarly, the green fluctuates between arid yellow to deeper tones. The variation of colours gives clarity and richness to the painting portraying this harbour as a natural scene with an enchanting mood.

On the bottom left hand side the grass is a shade of light green, which gains intensity as the viewer's eye travels up the cliff, until it becomes nearly black. When looking up to the sky, a feeling of unease befalls the viewer: the dark, intense blue seems heavy with rain and alludes to an approaching storm. Alternatively, perhaps the storm is passing, giving way to blue sky in the distance.

Mirroring the viewer’s gaze, the fisherman standing in one of the boats in the middle of the harbour seems to be looking up to the sky. He is the only person depicted in the painting, although there are several boats in the harbour and on land, The fisherman’s presence reinforces the realist style of the painting.

The water changes colour in the same manner as the cliffs and sky. The water at the painting’s edge is very clear, nearly turquoise blue: however, as the water travels towards the middle of the painting it becomes darker, a grey-brown blue that is still delicate, perhaps showing the remnants of the storm. It is clear that Firth’s paintings are inspired by his surroundings and their changing nature. His seafront paintings were mostly of the Scottish coastline, yet this painting demonstrates his distinctive skill at manipulating colours.

Jack Firth was born on May 21, 1917 in Edinburgh, and attended the Edinburgh College of Art from 1935 to 1939. He was very engaged in art education and taught art at schools as well as working as a part-time lecturer at ECA from 1955 to 1970. His works have been exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, the Torrance Gallery and the Open Eye Gallery amongst others. Jack Firth lived in Edinburgh for most of his life and was involved in the local art community, which culminated in his election to the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) in 1961. He painted various natural scenes in Scotland, in addition to capturing the beautiful light in the French countryside. He passed away in September 2010.

Jack Firth's Obituary in the Scotsman


With thanks to the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours for information on this artist