John Falconar Slater is considered one of the greatest British artists of impressionism working in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His wind-whipped, sea-tossed depictions of the tempestuous nature of the British northern coast have earnt him a reputation that has stood the test of time.
Slater’s early days were spent in the much more mundane practice of bookkeeping for his father’s milling business. He then sought out a career in the diamond fields of South Africa, running a store. However, after a freak storm destroyed much of his business, he returned to Britain to pursue his artistic passion.
The inclement weather would follow him, and soon become a great feature of his work, arguably what made it so intriguing and remarkable.
Slater began to exhibit at many an institution across Britain, including the Royal Academy in London. Even from his early works, the inspiration of impressionism was clear. Birthed in France, impressionism sought to capture nature’s essence and emotion, often in a spontaneous, on-the-spot way of working. Nature was not to be embellished but translated through strong brushstrokes and passionate use of paint.
Slater pays heed to this doctrine with his incredibly vivid paintings. The ocean’s depth and roiling majesty could seemingly leak from the canvas it spreads so mightily in an aquamarine stain. With a lightness of touch, Slater trippingly translates the touching of the sky upon the crests, creamy clouds and the soft yoke smear of a waning sun. In a sunset view, in which the sun is cracked to a candied pink, the sky and ocean seem to resonate off each other, creating a view evocative of Turner, but with Slater’s nimble brush invoking the lively spirit of impressionism. In views of the harbours of Whitely Bay and Cullercoats, where he lived and worked, Slater’s effective composition captures the clashing of solid structures with molten waters, the roughness of life on the coast, and yet the beauty of it, as well.
That Slater was able to capture these scenes of the northern coast in all weathers is a testament to his hardiness and determination. He was often seen working upon the rocks and sands, clothed in an oil-skins for warmth in even the most inclement of tempests. Such resolve earnt him a reputation as the ‘Weatherproof Artist.’ Indeed, Slater’s reputation on the whole was one of admiration and respect. He became a key figure in the art scene of the north-eastern coast of Britain, becoming a leading member of the North East Coast Arts Club. He also wrote regularly about art in local newspapers and publications, even publishing a memoir on his observations and experiences of art.
Slater’s legacy has remained strong long after his death in 1937. Today, a blue plaque adorns the wall of his Cullercoats home, celebrating his life. His works are regularly reproduced and can even be purchased for decorating everyday items such as mugs and bags. A biography on the artist was recently published by historian Marshall Hall, and many of his works reside in galleries across the country, including the Laing Art Gallery and the National Maritime Museum.
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
Exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy.
Married Sarah Ann Atkinson.
Lived and worked in Whitley Bay, England.
Moved to Cullercoats, England.
Exhibited at the North East Coast Exhibition.
Died in Cullercoats, North Shields, Britain. Buried in Whitley Bay Cemetery.