Not on display
- James Bolivar Manson 1879–1945
- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 610 × 508 mm
- Presented by subscribers 1923
In his introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition held to mark J.B. Manson’s death, R.R. Tatlock drew attention to his friend’s fascination with the beauty of nature:
We have been taught that it is misleading to judge pictures by their subjects. Yet to close our eyes to that would be to deny not only what exists but what is obvious and insistent. When we say Cézanne cared little what he depicted we are, in fact, introducing subject matter as an element in our argument. When I say that Manson did care, the remark is equally relevant. Manson, like Renoir, found himself inspired most enjoyably when confronted with Nature’s most abundantly luscious gifts. No one knew Manson who knew him only in the Streets of Chelsea, still less in the Board Room at the Tate Gallery. He had to be seen and his presence felt in a garden or a lane, or perhaps looking into the gorgeous face of a peony or listening to the birds. With him the child was always father of the man.1
This enjoyment of the simple pleasures of nature perhaps explains Manson’s commitment to painting flower pictures, a long and numerous series painted over a period of more than thirty years.
Manson’s exhibition of flower pictures at the Leicester Galleries in 1923 attracted little critical attention. It was reviewed briefly and not wholly positively in the Times:
Mr J.B. Manson, who has the third room with flower paintings, paints better than he draws, with the result that he is happiest in the mixed bunch, such as ‘Autumn Flowers in a White Jug’ and ‘A Late Summer Bunch’, in which the tapestry of colour is of more account than the construction.2
This observation holds some truth, but it is perhaps more the case that Manson did not intend such paintings to serve as botanical illustrations. Rather they were examples of his belief in impressionist principles, painting simple objects pleasing to the eye in a style adapted from Claude Monet and Lucien and Camille Pissarro. Unlike the classic type of Dutch seventeenth-century flower pictures, Manson always included details of the household setting in which he painted his flowers, essentially creating a form of domestic still life. As he stated in an interview in the Daily Herald in 1930:
R.R. Tatlock, ‘James Bolivar Manson 1879–1945’, in James Bolivar Manson 1879–1945, exhibition catalogue, Wildenstein, London 1946, [p.4].
‘Art Exhibitions: The Leicester Galleries’, Times, 6 November 1923, p.17.
J.B. Manson, interviewed by G.S. Sandilands, Daily Herald, 17 June 1930.
William Gaunt, ‘Tate Director as Painter’, Times, 7 February 1973, p.19.