This energetic late-19th-century seascape by English artist, Matthew Ridley Corbet (1850-1902) was born from a true love story and has an intriguing depth of history.
Ridley began his artistic education at Cheltenham College before studying at the Slade School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools under Frederic Leighton (1830-1896). Leighton was a traditionalist and Corbet’s early works followed suit. For example, his painting ‘Classical Maidens’ (1876-1879) depicts eight women - each adopting a pose akin to Greek and Roman sculpture. The details are exquisite and you can spot his master’s teachings.
During this period, Corbet was also inspired by George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) who you may know for his work ‘Hope’ that’s currently at the Tate.
But just a few years later, Corbet’s style changed radically when he began working alongside a group of painters in Italy known as the Macchiaioli. It seems that he was introduced to the group via painter Giovanni Costa (1826-1903) who knew Frederic Leighton well.
The Macchiaioli were fascinating as they approached landscape painting with a fresh perspective to reinvigorate Italian art. They’re often compared to the French impressionists due to their bold brushwork and emphasis on light. They often worked outdoors.
As you can see from this seascape, Corbet has used a broad brush and plenty of energy to render the violent sea - with its heavy waves rolling in and breaking on the shore. The canvas is also unusual as it’s long and thin, which is common for the Macchiaioli.
Corbet became immersed in this pioneering approach and spent a great deal of time in Rome. And it was his passion for the Italian countryside that ultimately led to his marriage to Edith Murch, who was also a member of the group.
Matthew and Edith struck up a beautiful affinity - travelling throughout Europe and painting interesting views in varying lights. Their styles are remarkably similar and you can imagine them exploring a new location together and searching for the ideal composition.
It seems plausible that this coastline is somewhere in Italy but the Corbets did travel widely including to North Africa.
In 1902, Matthew Ridley Corbet was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy and his works are held within several public collections. These include the Tate, the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Museums Sheffield, Usher Gallery (Lincolnshire), Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, and Harris Museum and Art Gallery.
A portrait of Corbet by John McLure Hamilton (1853-1936) is held at the National Portrait Gallery.
Medium: Oil on canvas Overall size: 30” x 12” / 76cm x 30cm Year of creation: c. 1895 Provenance: Sweden Condition: Craquelure, particularly where the paint is thickest. Could be cleaned to restore its original vibrancy if required or you may prefer it as it is. Artist’s auction highlight: £25’000 achieved for ‘Classical Maidens’ at Bonhams in 2003.