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Artist Profile: H.M. Bateman
Fine Art Malta – Our latest ‘Perry Magazine – 2019/2020 (Issue #58)’ features the British artist H.M. Bateman (1887-1970) on the front cover with an oil on paper called ‘St Joseph’s Ghajnsielem Gozo’ (27.5cm x 21cm) from a private collection. Here is an article written by Nicoline Sagona B.A. (Hons.) about the artist.
Henry Mayo Bateman holds a special place in the Gozo art scene of the 1960s.
His Gozo landscapes are all about light and colour, charming and delightful, portraying the pristine beauty of a yet unspoilt environment. A mere half a century later they have become nostalgic scenes of a landscape that has diminished in quality and beauty, giving way to insensitive construction.
Few people know that this famous cartoonist spent his twilight years in Gozo. From 1966 until his demise in 1970, just a few days short of his 83rd birthday, Bateman resided at the Royal Lady Hotel in Ghajnsielem, overlooking the quaint harbour of Mgarr and the splendid views of the Gozo-Malta channel. He was out and about almost every day, with the bright sunshine and warm weather doing him much good, both physically and artistically. He often commented on the favourable weather when writing back home, something which allowed him to paint almost continuously en-plein-air.
The Gozo works were produced purely for the artist’s own satisfaction.
With neither an audience to please, nor a particular patron to gratify, these small landscapes are a true reflection of the artist’s innermost spirit. In fact, he himself had confessed in his 1937 autobiography, how he yearned to paint “a quite serious picture, one that did not depend upon any sort of comic situation to make it appeal…”. Gone is the humour and satire of his famous witty cartoons which made him one of Britain’s most celebrated cartoonists of the early 20th century. Decades later, the hilarious moment and gawking audience typical. of the cartoons are replaced by ordinary Gozitan houses, orange-coloured carts, lush green vegetation and lines of washing hanging out to dry.
Very often executed in oil on paper, these relatively small works bear the freshness of quick compositions executed on the spot. They all betray quick and sure brushstrokes, while successfully capturing the tranquil way of life which dominated Gozo back then. Like great names before him who fell under the spell of the raw beauty of Calypso’s isle, Bateman went on daily strolls around the small island, in search for a scene that would spark off his artistic imagination.
The Perry Magazine | Issue #58
Bateman was after capturing the raw beauty of the mundane.
Brightly-coloured fishing boats, so full of character, make up many a composition. The warmth of the Mediterranean sun becomes almost tangible in his works, with the bright stonework of Gozitan houses and churches bouncing off the dazzling sunlight. Other works are characterised by the deep blue of the calm waters at Mgarr and Marsalforn.
The works become social commentaries and are brought to life by the insertion of the human figure. People often appear as tiny figures going about their daily chores, giving a human touch to a timeless landscape. In a few instances, a local figure takes centre stage, such as a paraffin seller with his tank-laden beast-driven cart: a scene completely immortalised from bygone times.
The socio-cultural element is important in Bateman’s works as with other British artists similarly setting foot on the islands. Like Edward Lear a century before and followed by Julian Trevelyan and Mary Fedden, Bateman successfully froze in time the charm and unmistakable character of Gozo back in the 1960s.
Thus we get numerous renditions of the harbour at Mgarr with its typical fishing boats and featuring local fishermen carrying out their seasonal chores ashore. Further inland, the artist was equally mesmerised by the rural villages with their spacious squares dominated by elegant churches. Countryside chapels become the protagonists in fantastically laid-out compositions executed in a single morning or afternoon.
Some of Bateman’s Gozo landscapes are executed in a rich, thick impasto while others see the artist experimenting with pointillism. In other works, the artist uses more fluid watercolours. These scenes are the embodiment of an era which will never return. Bateman’s colourful landscapes are like poetry which calms the soul; you can almost close your eyes and drift off to a different destination, where beauty and tranquillity take centre stage.
A significant number of Bateman’s works were acquired for the national collection back in 2012. Together with other works in local private collections, they make up a priceless corpus of impressionistic works; timeless landscapes capturing Gozo’s haunting beauty. Bateman’s soulful landscapes have become thirst-quenchers for those who wish to relive and admire Gozo’s allure of half a century ago.
Written by Nicoline Sagona B.A. (Hons.) in History of Art in 2001. She later read for a Master of Arts in Cultural Heritage Management. She has occupied the post of Manager Gozo Museums and Sites with Heritage Malta since 2008, In 2012 she coordinated Heritage Malta’s exhibition on Henry Mayo Bateman’s sojourn in Gozo, contributing also to the exhibition catalogue
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