Norman Garstin was born on the 28th of August 1847 in Caherconlish, Ireland. His paintings are associated with the en plein-air technique, with heavy influence from French impressionists such as Édouard Manet. Garstin’s inspiration also hails from Japanese prints and American painters such as James McNeil Whistler. Norman Garstin became a cornerstone in Cornwall’s Newlyn School.
Garstin attended Victoria College on the island of Jersey, following a passion for architecture and engineering. He ventured abroad and travelled to Cape Town, South Africa where he met Cecil Rhodes and began a career in journalism. Discontent and struck with a desire to pursue a career in art, in 1880 he attended the Royal Academy in Antwerp, Belgium. This compelled a move to Paris where he further studied from 1882 to 1884 in the studio of artist Carolus Duran. During his time in Paris he met Edgar Degas and became keenly interested in French Impressionism. Following his studies, he travelled throughout Europe visiting Spain, Morocco, Venice and Italy, embarking on the completion of his first professional paintings. Garstin first exhibited in 1883 at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, with the painting ‘Bird’s Nesting’ which had been sent from Paris. He regularly exhibited at the RHA in the following years.
In 1888, he met Louisa Jones whom he married and had three children, all of which pursued a career in the fields of journalism and art. They moved to Vernon, Newlyn where Garstin set his roots in the artistic community. He became a member of the New English Art Club (NEAC) and the Newlyn Society of Artists (NSA). In 1895, he became a founding member of the Newlyn Art Gallery which became an exhibition space for the students at Newlyn School of Arts where he taught. This gallery stands today as a prominent feature in the community of Newlyn.
As an avid traveller he took his students to places in Europe where he found great inspiration earlier in his career. In 1901 and 1902, New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins joined his Summer sketching classes in France where they formed a great friendship. They worked together in Normandy, Brittany, Belgium and Holland. Hodgkins proceeded to write of him and his wife in glowing terms from 1901 to 1914 to her mother Rachel Hodgkins. In 1902 she wrote “they are such dear delightful people but I do wish they had a little more of the world’s goods – living on pictures is a dog’s life”. By 1909 Hodgkins was holding her own classes in Paris and Montreuil-sur-Mer. Despite originally working with Garstin as his pupil he acknowledged her solely as a fellow artist.
“Mr Garstin refuses to accept me as a pupil & will not let me pay a penny he seems to think I have nothing to learn which is absurd and any help he gives me he says is merely from one brother artist to another. He wants me to work here for a while then go down to Spain for the winter, get plenty of material there then go back to Penzance & take a studio there for a while & get all my sketches in order & then have a show in London in the Spring. He has promised to write me up in the “Studio”, he writes a lot for that paper & has influence. It is a very attractive programme and the most delightful part of it is that Miss Richmond is coming with me. We are at present studying Spanish guide books and making plans.”
In 1919 Hodgkins and Garstin were both holding painting classes in Ludlow. As seen in the painting above, Garstin’s view looks down from Ludlow castle over the bridge to the river below. The same year, Hodgkins painted the watercolour Ludlow Castle (FH0633) which shows the reverse view of the very same scene. Hodgkins perspective shows the river bank looking across the bridge up the castle. This work was exhibited in the exhibition Frances Hodgkins and Her Circle in Jonathan Grant Gallery in 2020.
Garstin died on the 22nd of June 1926 in Penzance, Cornwall. An exhibition of his and his daughter Alethea’s work was sponsored by the Penwith Society of Arts and was featured at the National Gallery of Ireland in 1978. His work can be found at the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.