Frank Heath was born at the family home, Woodlands in Surrey, on the 23rd January 1873. He attended school locally and upon completion was sent to be an apprentice to the Captain of a windjammer that sailed to Australia. After returning to England he decided to pursue his first love, painting. His artistic training began at South Kensington Art School and continued at Croydon, Westminster, the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium and the Herkomer Art School at Bushy, Hertfordshire.
Sir Hubert von Herkomer’s Art School in Bushey was one of the major art schools of its day and often used a form of ‘post-graduate’ tuition. Heath joined the school in October 1897 and stayed for the full three -year course. During this time he exhibited three works at the Society of Oil Painters (known as the Royal Institute of Oil Painters) annual exhibition, which was held at the Piccadilly Galleries in London.
After completing his formal education Heath travelled to Brittany, France. During this time he became acquainted with British artist, Stanhope Forbes. Forbes originally chose to paint in Brittany in order to explore the style of open air painting (en plein air), rather than working entirely from a studio. The attractions of this style of painting appealed to Heath, who on his return to England, decided to travel to Newlyn to work with Forbes.
Forbes had established a school of painting in 1899, known as The Meadow, in Newlyn. The school’s formation marked the beginning of a new era in the artistic life of the village. Heath joined the school in 1901/02, finding lodging at Trewarveneth Farm, on the outskirts of the village. He became a close acquaintance and later friend of Stanhope Forbes. It is during this time that his first paintings were accepted by the Royal Academy. Whilst studying he met fellow artist Jessica Doherty whom he married on the 30th March 1910.
Heath purchased a block of land in Lamorna, Cornwall where he built a 5-bedroom granite house, which he christened Menwinnion, meaning ‘House of Winds’. Frank and Jessica, along with their two young daughters, moved into their new home in 1913. Menwinnion was to be their home for the rest of Frank’s life and the house featured in several of the artist’s works. With the outbreak of the First World War, Heath volunteered for active service. He enlisted in Lady Cunliffe Lister’s 2nd Sportsman’s Battalion of the Artists Rifles (Royal Fusiliers) and was posted to France in the Spring of 1915. He suffered a German chlorine gas attack and was so severely affected that he was evacuated back to England for treatment. He was diagnosed as having cerebral meningitis and invalided out of the army, returning to Menwinnion to convalesce. His recovery was slow and he suffered from poor health and depression for the rest of his life.
Heath loved Lamorna and the majority of his pictures were painted in and around Menwinnion or on the nearby rocks overlooking the sea. He followed in the tradition of Bastien-Lepage and Stanhope Forbes by painting out of doors in the ‘plein air’ style, although many of his paintings were completed in his studio. When painting, Heath was always smartly dressed wearing a stiff collar, tweed coat, waistcoat and breeches. Although not prolific in his output, he was very versatile in his range of subjects; he was equally at home whether painting animals, interiors, his garden, seascapes or his children.
His use of colour was a major feature in his work, as well as his fine technique in the use of light to enhance and bring out specific aspects of his compositions.
Between 1904 and 1935 Heath had 27 paintings accepted by the Royal Academy for their Summer Exhibition. During this time he also exhibited 6 paintings at the Salon in Paris and 13 at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition, held at the Walker Art Gallery. In 1935, Heath collapsed with breathing problems and died the following year.
Heath’s popularity as an artist from the ‘Newlyn School’ surged during the 1980’s when several of his paintings were sold at auction houses and art galleries in London for prices up to £80,000. His works are still avidly collected today with major works appearing in public collections in Bradford, Rochdale, Truro and Sydney.