Tuesday 14 October 2014

Gyrth Russell's Yorkshire Coast Mystery Tour

Sometimes I like to know I still have my hand in on the art historical research front. I got a little practical test yesterday evening because a member of my family wanted to find out which bit of the Yorkshire Coast is represented in the British Railways advertising poster below, by Canadian-born artist Gyrth Russell.

We are Yorkshire coast-goers ourselves, but we tend more towards Scarborough. My aunt on the other side of the family prefers the more northerly villages and placed this as 'Staithes with poetic license' immediately. I came to the same conclusion but I had to do it the hard way. I'd correlated the hilliness and that particular style of architecture with the northern part of Yorkshire but after that, I was checking old photographs and paintings of every town or village between Staithes and Bridlington, not that there's lots of them. I was especially looking for that particular lifeboat station (I went through the list from the RNLI), that breakwater and that very noticeable blue house. Staithes had the best match for all those things, though it looks to me like Gyrth Russell rearranged the scene pretty freely, based on the contents of his sketchbook. Here's a realistic watercolour he made with the 'blue' house in it.

And here's Staithes harbour in the 1940s, before the breakwater was built. The lifeboat station appears to have been on the other side of the estuary even then.

Okay, so it took me a couple of hours to accomplish through research what probably took my aunt five seconds, but it was fun. Lots of Russell's other BR posters have specific place names on them. In this case, I suppose he thought he'd improvised a bit too freely to get away with it.

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