Before the Storm, Abingdon


Before the Storm, Abingdon (England, c.1875)

Oil on panel
Signed with monogram


25.50cm high
35.50cm wide
(10.04 inches high)
(13.98 inches wide)
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Christies 345 h
Leggatt Brothers, 62 Cheapside


Art Journal, 1870, p 177; 1893, p 33; 1909, p 294
R Chignell, Life and Works of Vicat Cole 1898
Jeremy Maas, Victorian Painters (1969) pp 228-9

Description / Expertise

Born in Portsmouth and having spent a great deal of his childhood in the country, Vicat Cole shunned the humdrum monotony of the industrial world began painting country landscapes, in particular river scenes. He was seduced by the transience and movement of the river. The scenery evoked change and satisfied his constant quest for new experience. Change was essential to his happiness in his work, and, to avoid stagnation, he flitted, year by year, to spots, which offered the variety for which he craved.
To save time, and to gain readier access to distant points of the river, he bought a steam-launch, which he named The Blanch, after his eldest daughter. The launch soon became well known on the Thames as he wended his way through the meandering river experiencing, at first hand, the glories of England's waterways.
Most of his pictures evoke a dreamy quality and one can tell that he is perfectly at one with his surroundings. Whether charming depictions of detailed river fauna and flora, canal barges gliding by, or representations of bargemen, their pursuits and river-life, there is evident tranquility and harmony in the stillness of the world he depicts. He immersed himself fully in the community of river life and made friends with the other bargemen who were:
'rough fellows with rough tongues, but neither they, nor any of their sort, could resist the charm of Vicat Cole's genial nature. His admiration of their barge would alone secure their good-will; but perhaps it was the absence of anything like patronage in his way of speaking to them, and his genuine sympathy with their daily life, which moved them the most.'
In Before the Storm, Abingdon, the weeping willow in the centre dreamily flows with the gentle breeze in the lull prior to the storm whilst the omnipotent purple sky looms over the scene, throwing a spell over the scene and precipitating the forthcoming change of mood. Meanwhile, the stillness of the water conjures up feelings of loneliness apparent in some of his works. On the left is a deserted jetty; a suggestion of the human life, which has lately deserted it, and of the generations of river-men who have moored there. No figure is introduced, but the sense of the presence of traces of life adds a hidden pathos to the restful scene. This pathos and mystery is apparent in many of the scenes around the Abingdon area and especially so in his painting, Abingdon, which he exhibited in 1882.
Vicat Cole's river work was summarised in eloquent terms by Sir R Leighton PRA (referring particularly to his Thames works) at the Royal Academy banquet only three works after the artist's death.
'English landscape painting has lost in Vicat Cole one of its most conspicuous names. Typically English were the scenes on which he loved to dwell - the coppice, the galde, the rolling pasture fading from green to distant blue, summer slumbering on brown-tipped corn. But, most of all, our English Thames had won his heart and occupied his hands. He had followed its stream with faithful brush throughout its length - from where its first sweet gurgle is heard within the grass, to where, far away, salt and sullied, it rocks on turbid tides the carriers of the commerce of the world.'
R Chignell, The Life and Works of Vicat Cole, 1898