Owen Merton

Aotearoa New Zealand / England / United States, b.1887, d.1931

Back Street, St Ives

  • Purchased with assistance from the Olive Stirrat bequest, 1988
  • Watercolour
  • 295 x 175mm
  • 88/123
  • 1910
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earlier labels about this work
  • Brought to light, November 2009- 22 February 2011

    Cornwall was a popular destination for artists of the plein-air movement throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These artists were aiming to respond more directly and honestly to nature through painting outdoors. Many were attracted to the region’s unspoilt, coastal landscape and the picturesque charm of many of its towns, particularly St Ives. It was here that Merton spent several months in 1910, painting full-time before leaving for the Breton fishing village of Concarneau, France to study under Frances Hodgkins.

  • In 1909 Owen Merton left New Zealand for the second time, to study at the Colorossi Academy, Paris, where Frances Hodgkins was a tutor. After only a few months he moved on to the Studio of Percyval Tudor-Hart (1873 -1954) where he was a massier (student in charge of the studio). During the summer Tudor-Hart took his students on painting excursions to the villages of the southwest of England, and in 1909 Merton made his first visit to St Ives. Over the next few years this was to be a regular event for him in the summer. It was on his visit the following year that he painted this work.

    In 1912 he shared the summer sketching class with 29 other students, including two New Zealanders, Cora Wilding and Maud Sherwood. Merton moved to the USA in 1914 and remained an expatriate for the rest of his life.

    His painting at this time was subject to influence and there is no question that the theories of James McNeill Whistler, who Merton greatly admired, played a part, in particular the use of overall colour harmonies to achieve unity. (Watercolour rotation, 2009)