From about 1880, the successful application of steam power to beam trawling began to oust the sailing trawler, and a boom in new-builds of both wooden and iron steam trawlers began along the entire east coast from Aberdeen to Grimsby. In the wake of this massive build of new trawlers was the fashion by owners and skippers, and sometimes by members of the crew, to have a painting of their boat on the wall at home, and two particular painters, A. Harwood and G. Arnold, became known among the fishermen of the coast, as specialist painters in fishing boat portraits. Arnold is perhaps less known, and many of his paintings have an unfinished appearance, and frequently the background of the sky is left unpainted. Harwood, 1851-1922, became a more prolific painter of such watercolour paintings, which are now historically interesting documents of this period of expansion in the fishing industry, and a number of his works are present in our collections.
He started to paint only later in his life, and his earliest paintings from the early 1890’s are basic and elementary, and probably because of this, few of this date have survived the dustbin, yet this is an interesting period in fisheries history, since although the sailing smack was fast disappearing, they were still at work in the fleets. In addition, these were also the transition years from the ancient beam trawl to the otter trawl that fishermen had thumbed their nose at for some decades past, but which would revolutionise the fishing as steam had already done. All these changes in the morphology of the vessels are documented in the succession of paintings turned out by Harwood for his customers.
His technique quickly developed, and became more polished, though his paintings always remained strictly portrait and with boat and sea often very stylised, the vessels always shown broadside on, but after all, that is exactly what his clientele wanted. The vessels were usually depicted and purchased as a pair of paintings, one illustrating the boat in fine, flat-calm weather, under blue sky, while the second painting showed the vessel in foul weather, with riotous sea, foam and heavy sky.
Through the mid 20th century, their appeal waned and many were thrown away or sold out of the fishing families, a few at least, entering the export antiques trade and ending up in America, and many of the paired paintings of fair and foul weather rig became separated. Others suffered a different fate, and several old fishermen, interviewed in the 1960’s, recalled that several paintings that had ended up in fishermen’s stores and bait houses had eventually been turned to the wall, had a dart-board chalked on the back, and had been peppered with holes through games of darts. Years later the tales were corroborated when two such mistreated Harwood paintings were subsequently discovered and restored for our collection.
WE ARE ANXIOUS TO PURCHASE TRAWLER AND FISHING BOAT PAINTINGS BY THESE TWO ARTISTS FOR ENTRY INTO OUR HISTORICAL SEQUENCE, SO PLEASE CONTACT DAVE WHITTAKER IF YOU HAVE AN EXAMPLE THAT MAY BE OF INTEREST AND THAT YOU WISH TO SELL.