Oil painting 7

Old St Matthew’s Church, Douglas

Date made: 1884-1933

Artist: Knox, Archibald

Description: Knox lived on the South Quay opposite Old St Matthew’s Church for most of his early life. Here he has captured a muted sense of the hustle and bustle of the Douglas market with people wandering around its stalls. The figures are rendered as indistinct shadows with little or no definite form. Knox has transformed what would have been an extremely well-known local scene into something less familiar and more akin to a Dutch or northern European street market.

Although the painting is signed ‘A.K.’(bottom left-hand corner in red) the accompanying date is unclear. As a result it is difficult to confirm whether the painting was produced by Knox from life (before Old St Matthew’s Church was demolished in 1895) or done at a later date either from memory or earlier sketches. Was Knox painting a contemporary scene using avant-garde artistic techniques (1890s) or was he painting a scene from memory, using a more traditional and by then conventional style (1920s)?

Background:

Archibald Knox is best-known for his metalwork designs and for his watercolours. However, he also produced a limited number of oil paintings. Whilst his watercolours are distinct for their sense of light, his oils are darker and more sombre in tone. In common with his portraits in oils, the painting Old St Matthew’s Church, Douglas is executed in dark, thick oil paint applied with heavy textured brush strokes.

Old St Matthew’s Church was built from 1708-1711 by Bishop Wilson. A century later, Johnson’s Guide (1850) disparagingly described it as ‘an old and ungainly edifice’. It was demolished in 1899 to allow for the redevelopment of the open-air Douglas market. Today the site is occupied by the market and the British Legion Club.

Comparisons:

In contrast to Knox’s impressionistic watercolours, Old St Matthew’s Church clearly expresses the feeling of a cold, dark and gloomy winter’s morning at the Douglas market. It could be an example of Knox replicating and experimenting with the dark artistic style then popular, for example, in the work of Walter Sickert. Contrast this work with the far brighter and more colourful interpretation of the same market scene by Knox’s contemporary, E.C. Quayle.

Measurements: artwork: 48.5 cm x 66.5 cm

Materials: oil on canvas

Photograph and description courtesy of Manx National Heritage via the link at imuseum.im.