Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Is That Pirate Wearing Lipstick?

Now and then, Mr Walker will suggest I try something which I don't think I'll enjoy and I end up loving it.  I think one of the most notable examples of this was when he made me watch the film 'Master and Commander' which I loyally accompanied him to (such wifely duty!) and ended up adoring it.  A similar moment happened at the weekend on the way to Brownsea Island with Mr Walker, Lily-Rose, Miss Katy and Pirate Pete.

We caught the Brownsea ferry from Poole harbour, and while we were in Poole we stopped off in Poole's museum to see an exhibition of a maritime artist called Bernard Finegan Gribble.  I wasn't really that bothered because when I thought of Gribble, I pictured this kind of thing...

A Smokescreen, Naval Engagement (1914-18)
Very nicely executed, very good rendering of the sea and all that but not really my bag.  However, what I didn't expect was to spend so much time with my jaw on the floor at such glorious sights as this...

The Ark of Promise (1909)
The Ark of Promise was enormous, dominating a wall at the end of one of the rooms.  Poole Museum have an exhibition on until 16th February next year entitled 'Painting Drama at Sea: Bernard Gribble 1872-1962' and although it contains a great deal of material outside our usual time-frame here on The Kissed Mouth, there was a great deal of gorgeous art that dealt with the human aspect of sea-faring at the end of the nineteenth century, and their view of the maritime past.  One of my favourite moments has to be when Miss Katy and I stood in front of this painting...

The Whelp of the Black Rover
We stood there in silence, admiring the massive canvas, before we looked at each other.
'The pirate in the front of the boat...' 
'Yes, do you think he looks a bit..?' 
'What, like a girl?'
'I think he's wearing lipstick...'
By laying on the floor, Miss Katy managed to read the plaque on the frame which told us that the fine young pirate in the front of the little boat, wearing the headscarf, was indeed a lady pirate.  An alternative title for the work therefore could be 'The Captain had always wondered about Bob since he saw him flying his bra from the mast while drunk...'

Mr Gribble in his studio
Bernard Finegan Gribble (1872-1962) should be far better known than he is.  He is one of the most prolific maritime artists and illustrators of the early twentieth century, together with a regular illustrator for the Illustrated London News and The Graphic.  He painted more than just ships, he also did portraits as you can see by the everso natural picture above.  Loving the plus fours.

Morgan's Prize (1901)
Well, goodness me, boobs ahoy!  Looking at some of his more 'human interest' canvases, it's unsurprising to learn that Gribble mixed with London's theatrical community and was part of a rather bohemian gentlemen's club called the Savage Club (members over the years have included Wilkie Collins, Magnus Pyke and most of the Crazy Gang).  I do hope that the gentlemen that read this blog (yes, all four of you) hold true to such bohemian and wanton values.

Attack on the Spanish Treasure Ship 1620
What sets Gribble apart is his use of light to create atmosphere.  The way that the light plays on the water gives you a real feeling of depth and action.  You feel the boats are moving, that the people are riding the waves and everything is moving, which is the delight of the sea.  It never seems still, it always seems to have momentum, be moving towards something.  Possibly that is our relationship as humans with such a massive, unpredictable force of nature: how ever many times we cross it, we do not tend to linger.  We cross an ocean, we sail across a sea.  We do not presume to stay.  The sea is a force for change for us.  We will change our surroundings, we will change our fortune, we will change our lives.

The Captain's Last Landing
Much of the delight of Gribble's work is in the scale of his canvases - they are huge - and the detail he puts into not only the ships but also the people.  He made a study of the boats, working from photographs if he couldn't find the actual ship he needed and filled sketch books with rigging, masts and all sorts of details which found their way into his pictures.  Likewise, he studied costume to add authenticity to his extremely theatrical scenes.  This aspect of his work for me gives him a broader appeal that simply a painter of boats.  The people in these watery landscapes have a presence that rivals the enormous ships.

The Plague Ship
He had many fans and collectors: President Roosevelt was said to have had Gribble's works hanging in the Oval Office and other famous collectors included such diverse people as the Kaiser and Jackie Onassis.  When he died, Gribble's widow donated a large collection to the Borough of Poole, where they had lived for the second part of their lives.  It is time for a Gribble revival because his work is extraordinary.

Who doesn't love extraordinary?

Self Portrait in Oriental Cap

'Painting Drama at Sea: Bernard Gribble 1872-1962' is on at Poole Museum until 16th February 2014 and further information can be found here.


  1. Amazing work, and amazing that I have never heard of him. Reminiscent of Howard Pyle. Oh and by the way I did belong to a club, at school, I ended up with a really mean stamp collection.

  2. I wonder if The Lady With The Lipstick/Bob, sung sea shanties to her crew during the dead calms? Heave-ho, me hearties!

  3. Yet another of those late 19th century artists who served with The Artists Rifles.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx