Moonlight and Stars, Godrevy Lighthouse, St. Ives, Cornwall

Julius Olsson

English ( b.1864 - d.1942 )

Moonlight and Stars, Godrevy Lighthouse, St. Ives, Cornwall

  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed lower right

Image size 17.5 inches x 23.4 inches ( 44.5cm x 59.5cm )
Frame size 27.6 inches x 33.7 inches ( 70cm x 85.5cm )

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Sold by Big Sky Fine Art; this original painting by Julius Olsson dating from the turn of the century.
The work is presented and supplied in its’ original substantial and elaborate frame (which is shown in these photographs).
The painted surface, the canvas and the frame has benefitted from cleaning, restoration and conservation, which took place in 2021 on our instructions.
This antique painting is in very good condition, commensurate with its age. It wants for nothing and is supplied ready to hang and display.
The painting is signed lower right.
Provenance: Previously with the London dealership John A.Cooling.

The artist and teacher Julius Olsson has been described as “a big man with a big heart, who paints big pictures with a big brush in a big studio”. He specialised in seascapes and could paint moonlight on the ocean like no one else and did more than any other painter to stamp St Ives as a British outpost of impressionism.

Julius Olsson was born on 1 February 1864 in Islington, London, and was brought up in London. His father was Swedish, and his mother was English. He was self-taught as an artist, although his first work seems to have been for a commercial art firm. He left this work to travel and paint, taking frequent voyages, and developing an impressionist style that has been compared to the later period of impressionist Henry Moore.

Olsson exhibited his work from 1888 onwards, including at the Royal Academy from 1890. He won a gold medal at the Paris Salon. In 1914 he was made an Associate of the Royal Academy and a full member in 1920. He was elected a member of the New England Art Club in 1891 and later also became President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.

In 1896/7 he left London to live in St. Ives in Cornwall, where he became involved in the local community, and a Justice of the Peace. He was one of the very first artists to join the new artists’ colony there and contributed to many aspects of its creative and social life. He was the dominant figure in the early life of Porthmeor Studios, running the School of Landscape and Marine Painting from Studio 5, first with Louis Grier and subsequently with Algeron Talmage. The school built a reputation that attracted students from all over the world, including Emily Carr, Mary McCrossan, Richard Layley Lever, Borlase Smart and John Park. Thus, Olsson’s influence as a teacher spread over a generation or more of young painters from both Britain and overseas.

The works that Olsson produced in St. Ives, especially the moonlit scenes of the Cornish coast are his best-known works. One of these, The Moonlit Shore, was purchased by Chantry Bequest in 1911 and is now in the Tate. He and his wife, Kathleen (also an artist) designed and built their own home in St. Ives; St Eia contained many Arts & Crafts features and is now run as a family hotel.

In 1915, after the outbreak of the Great War, Olsson returned to London and joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. He served as a lieutenant and his experiences in the navy gave him the opportunity to paint naval ships in action, such as A Lame Duck in the Channel, which shows a damaged vessel being towed through a rough sea.

Olsson remained based in London after the war, but he continued to support the St. Ives community and remained connected to it for the rest of his life. His artistic career continued to flourish; he travelled and painted throughout London, Ireland, Sweden and Cornwall, always excelling in the subject matter of water, understanding that his extraordinary talent lay in his ability to capture the effects of the fall of light on the sea.

Olsson was also known in his time as a fine yachtsman. He went cruising on his yacht most summers and was said to have known the “way from the Scillies to the Isle of Wight as most men know their way to the nearest railway station.”

After his house was bombed during an air-raid in the Second World War Olsson moved to Dalkey on the outskirts of Dublin, where he died on 7 September 1942.

Today Olsson is represented in many public collections, including the National Maritime Museum, the Birmingham Art Gallery, Doncaster Museum, the National Museum of Wales and The Tate.

It has been said of Olsson that “A picture by him is never likely to be mistaken for a picture by anybody else. He seeks always for effects of luxurious softness and warmth, for summer moons that turn the sea to molten silver, for suns that transform even rock and cliff into something like liquid gold.”

This magnificent original oil on canvas depicts the moonlight on the sea in the bay of St. Ives in Cornwall. On the horizon to the top left we see the warm beacon of light from Godrevy Lighthouse, which gives the painting a sense of scale. Along the rest of the horizon is the St. Ives Bay coastline with occasional spots of light and chimney smoke plumes from dwellings close to shore in Gwithian. The painting is however mostly lit by the soft glow of moonlight and starlight, which bathes the centre of this scene and is reflected by the soft waves which ripple onto the sand in the foreground from the viewpoint in Carbis Bay. The overall palette is a delightful mix of blues and greens, reflected between the sea and the sky.

Godrevy Lighthouse was built in 1858/9. It stands off Godrevy Head, marking the Stones reef, which has been a Cornish shipping hazard for centuries. The view to Godrevy Lighthouse from her home at Talland House was the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse.