Oil on board, initialled bottom right, inscribed verso ‘An Outdoor Study, at Kirkdale, Liverpool’
Image size: 8 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches (21.5 x 31.5 cm)
Victorian gilt frame
Christopher Newall’s Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and the Rebellion, Liverpool 2016, p. 72.
Marillier, H.C., The Liverpool School of Painters, London 1904, p.84.
Walker Art Gallery, Historical Exhibition of Liverpool Art, 1908, no.113.
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This recently rediscovered work by James Campbell is a detailed and important historical record of Kirkdale, executed in the artist’s distinctive and linear style. The landscape is painted with detailed execution and bright, clear colours. These traits characterised Campbell’s work and illustrate his admiration of these Pre-Raphaelite principles. In fact, in the past, paintings by Campbell have been mistakenly attributed to John Everett Millais and Ford Madox Brown.
As seen here, Campbell specialised in showing the life of working-class men and women in his native city of Liverpool and the surrounding countryside. Kirkdale lies on the north side of Liverpool, occupying the flat land on the banks of the Mersey. At the time Campbell created this painting the land was still mainly in agricultural use and despite its proximity to the growing town of Liverpool it was still mostly rural in the first half of the 19th century. During the 1950s and at the time that this landscape was painted Campbell himself lived in the Kirkdale area.
Here we see Campbell’s concern with the minutiae of detail; to the carefully crafted buildings on the horizon, the the crumbling thatched roof of the farm building to the painstakingly formed individual blades of grass in the foreground, the pictorial space has been carefully and slowly crafted.
Given Campbell’s attention to detail it is likely that he studied Dutch genre paintings as well as the examples of the pre-Raphaelites. While this work is rich in fine detail it is worth noting how certain passages are quite painterly, none more so that the sweeping sky with billowing grey clouds.
As a study it is most likely that this work was done entirely en plein air (‘true to nature’) and painted directly in front of the motif. While the work employs seemingly high chroma colours, when in comparison with their London counterparts, the noticeable use of lighter and less intense colours generally distinguishes the works by the Liverpool Pre-Raphaelites from those of their London fellows.
James Campbell (1828 – 1893) was an English artist based for the majority of his life in Liverpool. Campbell was a member of the Liverpool School, a group of painters who were particularly receptive to Pre-Raphaelitism and who supported and imitated the London school. The city’s interest in the movement was driven from 1845 to 1860 by the Liverpool Academy, making the city the only provincial town to have its own school of Pre-Raphaelite artists. At this time Liverpool also saw an extraordinary generation of patrons collecting Pre-Raphaelite works. It was largely down to the generosity of these spending men and women that made painting in a Pre-Raphaelite style viable for this group of artists. Among Campbell’s most loyal patrons, in addition to John Miller, were George Rae, of Birkenhead, and James Leathart, of Gateshead.
Campbell studied at the Royal Academy Schools before moving back to Liverpool in 1851. Here he entered the Liverpool Academy as a probationer, exhibiting there for the first time the following year. Campbell was elected as an associate of the Liverpool Academy in 1854 and a full member in 1856. In 1857 he contributed to the Russell Place exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art in London
Campbell’s pictures focused on the details of lower-middle class and working class life in his native Liverpool, with works such as Waiting for Legal Advice (1857) which drew on his first hand experience as son of an insurance clerk. The Walker Art Gallery describes him as “the most Dickensian of all the Pre-Raphaelites.” Campbell documented the lives of the folk he observed – describing as he did the privations they endured with such humanity – gives his works an idiosyncratic quality that makes them compelling.
Campbell’s career as an artist was cut short by failing eyesight and from which he suffered even while he was still in his thirties. He exhibited at the Liverpool Academy only until 1864, while the following year he showed for the last time at the Liverpool Institution of Fine Arts. He was eventually awarded a pension and the offer of accommodation by the Royal Academy, and for which support his patrons Rae and Leathart had petitioned. The fact that Campbell had such a short working career – hardly longer than a decade and a half – and because he painted in such an exacting and meticulous way, explains why his works are rare.