Rigg, Ernest Higgins (1868-1947)

Rigg, Ernest Higgins (1868-1947)
Rigg, Ernest Higgins (1868-1947)

British artist Ernest Higgins Rigg captured the relationship between humanity and nature throughout his abundant oeuvre of works. A member of the prominent Staithes Group of artists, Rigg was an artist keen to take inspiration from the impressionists sweeping Europe and yet lend to his works a decidedly British focus.

Rigg’s artistic education began in his hometown of Bradford with attendance at the Bradford School of Art. He continued his studies with a trip to Paris to learn at the Académie Julian. This was an open-minded and encouraging institution, and it was here that Rigg was introduced to the works of the Impressionists. Having grown ever more influential throughout the late 19th century, the impressionists were leaving an indelible mark on many artists, including Rigg.

With the completion of his studies, Rigg returned to Yorkshire and set up a studio in Runswick Bay, a cosy coastal village overlooking the North Sea. He would also often make journeys to the nearby fishing village of Staithes, a location which would prove very influential upon his art.

Carved into a cracked crevice on the North Yorkshire coast, Staithes appealed greatly to a collective of around 40 artists who would establish the Staithes Art Group in 1901. This group included the likes of Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) and her husband Harold Knight (1874-1961). It also included Rigg.

Many of the artists would live in the local area, like Rigg, or bunk in the attics and homes of the local residents. Here they would remain for a number of months, living, breathing, and wholly immersing themselves in the gritty, gruelling nature of the Staithes lifestyle.

They would create a large array of paintings which captured life in the village and their rugged surroundings, and, indeed, the manner in which they interacted. Inspired by the French impressionists, these works omitted nothing of the raw, organic state of life in Staithes, often painted plein air, meaning outside, directly from life.

Rigg’s works are no exception. His productions from his time in Staithes are brimming with studies of light. He captures it as it bounces off the turgid waves, the terracotta roofs of the houses, the slipway of the harbour. In an impressionistic manner, he conjures up his scenes in quick brushstrokes. Boats are slips of grey against a dash of azure sea and a flash of powder-blue sky.

This fascination with light would become something of a preoccupation throughout Rigg’s career. Even when he retreated from Staithes, he continued his plein air painting. Rigg would move at first to Sussex before returning to Yorkshire after the First World War, settling inland in Richmond. In each location, Rigg would capture the glorious, transcendental beauty of the British countryside in moments of light and colour. Rolling fields are fired with bucolic energy in one canvas and subdued with wan snow in another. Blossom petals are illuminated by the crowning sunlight and cast deep shadows upon dewy grass.

Life is captured in scenes of glorious everyday wonder. From farm labourers toiling in the fields to the moments of childhood whimsy, probably depicting his own children. Even in works that are much more grounded in realism, Grigg’s studies of light and of nature remain. Potato pickers in a field are bathed in the warm light from a setting sun in the far horizon. A relentless midday sun sets in stark relief the plaster wall of a workers’ cottage, chipped and crowned with a depleted thatched roof. There is truth, even where some of his works might seem more sentimental.

Rigg had great success in exhibiting his works both nationally and regionally. His works featured at the Royal Academy for over 20 years, as well as at the Royal Society of British Artists. Within Yorkshire, he exhibited with the Bradford Art Gallery and the Leeds Art Exhibition. He was also a frequent contributor to the exhibition of the Yorkshire Union of Artists, with whom he was a member.

Alongside Rigg, his brothers, Alfred (1859-1915) and Arthur (1868-1947) were also artists. Indeed, Arthur and Rigg would advertise jointly their intention to take on some pupils for instruction in art.

Ernest Higgins Rigg would develop the inspiration offered by the impressionists into a style he felt ideal for capturing the everyday moments of British country and coastal life. From the Yorkshire coast to the rolling Sussex fields, Rigg’s works capture the light and life of his surroundings. As part of the Staithes Group, he was contributing to the growing fascination and celebration of the British countryside in all weathers, in all its extremes. He was truthful, and his works are fantastic studies of life in his time.

Today, many of his works can be found in public galleries, including the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, and the museum in his hometown of Bradford.


Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, Britain.


Exhibited with the Yorkshire Union of Artists.


Exhibited with the Yorkshire Union of Artists.


Exhibited with the Yorkshire Union of Artists.


Moved to Hinderwell, Yorkshire.


Exhibited at the Royal Academy.


Elected a member of the Yorkshire Union of Artists. Exhibited with the Arcadian Art Club.


Became a founding member of the Staithes Art Group.


Exhibited at Leeds Art Exhibition.


Exhibited at the Braford Art Gallery Spring Exhibition.


Moved to Sussex.


Married Alberta Hargreaves. Moved to Shipley, Yorkshire.


Moved to Melbecks, Richmond, Yorkshire.


Died in Kingsbridge, Devon, Britain.

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