Iain Gale on exhibitions

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The Independent Online
Even in the current climate of renewed enthusiasm for Victorian painting, spearheaded by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's seemingly tireless bidding at auction on the pre-Raphaelites and late Romantics, certain themes and artists of the golden age of narrative painting continue to remain out of fashion or relatively unknown. One such example is Harold Swanwick, currently re-investigated at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne.

Swanwick was a Victorian painter in the classic mould. A landscape artist who delighted in agricultural scenes and the domestic life of the farm, he trained at the Slade and in Paris at the celebrated Academie Julian in the 1880s before retiring in 1912 to his native Eastbourne, where he died in 1929.

On the evidence of the current show, Swanwick's subsequent lapse into obscurity is far from justified. A talented water colourist, he epitomises the cosy, rural obsession of British art at the turn of the 20th century. Typically, he looks to the lessons of ruralists such as Millet and to the Dutch artists of the Hague School - Israel's Mesdag and Mauve. The resulting images are exquisite tonal studies in which the play of light is captured with a deceptive ease.

The subject matter may not be entirely to our present taste, and titles such as A Wee Scotch Lassie might say more about the social mores of the time than the true subject of the picture. Nevertheless, Swanwick is a worthwhile rediscovery - a salutory case of an artist being simply too "pleasant" for his own good.

Towner Art Gallery Eastbourne (01323 417961) to 22 Sept

Left: detail from Swanwick's 'Harrowing Near Wilmington', 1917

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