Researcher reveals lost world of local artist in new museum exhibition
University of Sussex art historian Alexandra Loske’s trip to a Lewes antique shop led to her own exhibition of rarely seen works at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.
Alexandra, who is currently carrying out doctoral research into the décor of Brighton Pavilion, bought an etching by an artist called Robert Goff. She then discovered that Goff was a Hove-based artist and that Brighton Museum had a sizeable collection of his works.
Alexandra’s subsequent research into Goff’s life and work led to an invitation to curate an exhibition in the Museum’s Prints and Drawings Gallery. Alexandra was able to draw on the museum’s archives and the help of the museum team, including curator of Fine Art Jenny Lund and paper conservator Heather Wood, to create an overview of the etcher’s art and to highlight the best of Goff’s work .
The exhibition – Robert Goff: An Etcher in the Wake of Whistler – is devoted to 50 of Goff’s exquisite black and white etchings and other works, not displayed since the 1920s, depicting scenes of Edwardian Brighton and Hove, industrial London and the Thames and evocative images of Egypt, Italy and Japan.
Robert Charles Goff (1837-1922), a wealthy and much-travelled retired Army colonel, was one of the first etchers in Britain to be influenced by the renowned artist J.A.M. Whistler and the Etching Revival. The art of etching is becoming fashionable again, partly in reaction, Alexandra thinks, to the predominance of digital images.
Alexandra says: “With an etching you can admire the processes and the skill that went into the image – and they are very collectible items.”
Wealthy but with a strong sense of civic duty, Goff was an active figure in Brighton and Hove’s arts scene. He even kept on his studio in Holland Road after he left his Adelaide Crescent home in Hove to live abroad in 1903.
Despite having had no professional training Goff’s etchings are of great technical quality and artistic strength. Contemporary art critics were quick to draw comparisons with James McNeill Whistler, who earlier had helped to revolutionise and popularise the art of etching. The similarity is most notable in Goff’s best works, particularly those depicting the Thames, says Alexandra.
Goff’s works are also of social historical interest. His illustrations depicting prison conditions in London include images of chained convicts being shipped off to Australia from the Thames at Millbank (now home to Tate Modern). But he loved the sea, and his views of Brighton, Hove and Shoreham feature dramatic waves and some of the city’s lost buildings and piers. One etching features all of Brighton’s famous piers – the Chain Pier, Palace Pier and the West Pier.
At the end of his life, Goff was unable to walk and visit the views he liked to depict. He turned instead to painting flowers obsessively – perhaps as a way of keeping in touch with the natural world that had so inspired him.
Alexandra is now hoping to produce a pamphlet on Goff’s life and work and looking forward to further exhibitions, once she had completed her doctoral studies, which have been funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council scheme to encourage collaborations between academics and organisations that explore the country’s rich arts heritage.
Notes for Editors
Alexandra Loske is a researcher in the University of Sussex Art History department. She is In currently completing an AHRC-funded doctorate on the decorative scheme of the Royal Pavilion: George IV's design ideas in the context of European Orientalism and colour theory, 1765 - 1845 (Collaborative Scholarship, University of Sussex and the Royal Pavilion). She gives guided tours of the Pavilion and delivers regular public talks and lectures. She has appeared as a guest expert on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow and was most recently (24 November 2011) seen advising Sarah Beeny on the Regency fashion for Chinese style on the television series Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare for Channel 4.
The University of Sussex is now offering a new Art History MA in Art Museum Curating (and another in Museum Curating with Photography) that develops both academic aptitude in the discipline of art history and practical skills vital for a career in a museum or gallery.
Robert Goff: An Etcher in the Wake of Whistler, 29 November 2011 to 29 April 2012
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Prints & Drawings Gallery. Admission free.
The art of etching
An etching is created by applying ink into an incised plate, usually of copper. The plate is coated with wax, which the artist then cuts through into the metal. The plate is then exposed to acid which ‘bites’ into the surface, creating incisions where the lines were cut. The wax is then removed and the surface covered in ink. The etcher wipes the plate, with ink remaining only in the incised parts. The plate is then run through a printing press with dampened paper, leaving the characteristic plate mark on the print. Drypoint is a technique where the artist incises the plate directly, without using wax or acid, throwing up a rough burr which holds the ink. Combining these two methods creates particularly expressive lines and rich velvety tones.
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