An image of destruction that holds contemporary resonance, this is one of over 300 watercolours by Joseph Stafford Gibson, which were bequeathed to us after his death in Madrid on 3 February 1919.
In a letter to British MP Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) dated 8 February 1894, Gibson explains that he “lived in France from 1862 up to the Franco-German war & afterwards till the year 1877 when I came to Spain.”
This street scene of Asnières-sur-Seine was painted in the aftermath of La Commune de Paris (Paris Commune). In 1871, Gibson evidently bore witness to this destruction and the radical two-month government that emerged from the Franco-Prussian War and collapse of the Second French Empire.
Joseph Stafford Gibson (1837-1919) was born in Kilmurry, near Bandon, County Cork. Although his father was in the military, he was descended from prominent Cork silversmiths. An amateur artist, he would write in 1889: “think that every one should have an occupation, mine is painting [...] never able to exhibit a picture.” That being said, numerous of his watercolours are helpfully, but critically annotated by James Brenan (1837-1907), headmaster of the Cork School of Art (1860-89), and he steadily mastered his techniques over a fifty year period.
Curiously, Gibson has a chapter devoted to him in Gente del '98 by artist Ricardo Baroja (1871-1953) – one-time colleague of Pablo Picasso – entitled “José Stratford Gibson, pintor inglés desconocido” (unknown English [sic] painter).
Asnières – Rue de Normandie (1871) by Joseph Stafford Gibson is featured in THE GIBSON BEQUEST: Home & Away until 17 March 2020.
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