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WORK OF THE WEEK | 4 February 2020

CAG.1007 Joseph Stafford Gibson, Asnières – Rue de Normandie, 1871, watercolour on paper, 39 x 28.4 cm. Presented, 1919 (Gibson Bequest)

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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