This romantic landscape by East, certainly shows the influence that the Barbizon school had on his work. The Barbizon school were drawn together by their passion and desire to elevate landscape painting as a response to the Academic elevation of historical and mythological themes. Here, East truly revels in the beauty of the English landscape but also captures the mood of the time in which there was a growing concern at the rapidity of social change and its impact upon the countryside.
East regularly painted the Cotswolds from the early 1890s until the end of his life – it is probable that this scenes depicts that part of the country. He focused principally on the area around Upper Swell, which he referred to as ‘Over Swell’, hoping to avoid the village becoming a focus for visitors seeking out the views that he portrayed.
East adopted a well established three-stage-technique that made great use of the under-painting, a second layer concerned with the correction of values, and a final stage for the addition of details; all painted with lean oil paint. As can be seen in the work, during this process East practically repainted the entire canvas after the first layer and then proceeded to pick out isolated sections that required further reworking and detail.
This work was part of Andrew Vicari’s private collection. Vicari was a welsh painter working in France, who established a career painting portraits of prominent people. In 1974 Vicari was appointment as the official painter to the King and Government of Saudi Arabia. Despite being largely unknown in his own country, in 2004 Vicari was Britain’s richest living painter and at one time Britain’s 18th richest person.
Sir Alfred East was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire. He studied at the Glasgow School of Art.His distinctive palette of pale browns and greens and idealisation of the landscape show the influence of the French Barbizon painters, who perceived the countryside in the form of an escape from urban banality.
After his time at the Glasgow School of Art, studied in Paris under Adolphe-William Bouguereau before settling in London in 1873. In April 1888 he had shared an exhibition at the galleries of the Fine Art Society with T.C. Gotch and W. Ayerst Ingram, and was commissioned the following year by Marcus Huish, managing director of the Society, to spend six months in Japan to paint the landscape and the people of the country. When the exhibition of 104 paintings from this tour was held at the Fine Art Society in 1890 it was a spectacular success. East also travelled extensively in France, Spain, Italy, Morocco and Japan.
In 1906 he was elected president of the Royal Society of British Artists, a position he held until his death. In that year, he published his 107-page illustrated “The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour”; in its preface, he made the observation: “The greatest errors in landscape painting are to be found – contradictory as it may appear – not so much in the matter of technique as in the painter’s attitude toward Nature”. In this book he described his techniques using colours, half-tones and pencil sketches.
He was awarded a Knighthood in 1910 by King Edward VII. East was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1899, having been a regular exhibitor since 1883 and elected to full membership in 1913. On 28 September 1913, Alfred East died at his London residence in Belsize Park.