John George Naish (1824-1905) The long and successful career of John George Naish divided into two highly distinct phases. He first established himself as a painter of idealised figure subjects in the tradition of his mentor, William Etty. However, in the late 1860s, he turned almost completely to landscapes, and specialised in intense scenes of the coasts of Cornwall and Devon, the latter becoming his home.
John George Naish was born in Midhurst, Sussex, on 9 April 1824, the elder son of the grocer, John Foord Naish, and his wife, Elizabeth (née Gatehouse). Much to the delight of his father, who was a lover of art, he showed an early talent for drawing. however, his progress in this field was almost permanently halted when he reached the age of nine, for, ‘while visiting an uncle in Chichester, his cousin accidentally shot him in the left eye with a steel-pointed arrow.
A long illness and the loss of the sight of the eye were the result’ (Dafforne 1875, page 325). By the time that he completed his education at the local grammar school, ‘so great was the fear of total blindness if the remaining eye had too much strain upon it, that all idea of becoming an artist had to be abandoned’ (loc cit). Instead, he went to work with a South Down sheep farmer and, over the following year, the fresh air and exercise helped him gain in health. An encounter with a peripatetic artist revived his own artistic yearnings, and he began to visit Portsmouth in order to sketch subjects for marine paintings. In 1843, while still living in Midhurst, he exhibited his first painting at the Royal Academy, entitled Small Shipping. he then soon left for London, with an introduction to William Etty RA, who gave him ‘much kindness and attention’ (loc cit).
J G Naish initially made studies in art at the British Museum and then, in December 1846, entered the Royal Academy Schools. his early idealised figure compositions containing fairies, mermaids and nymphs, as exhibited at the RA, show Etty’s influence. during this period, he lived at 29 Wimpole Street and then 14 Gower Street. Following his marriage in Kingston in 1850, he and his wife, Charlotte (née Thresher), took a long honeymoon-cum-sketching tour, staying in Paris, Bruges and Antwerp, among other towns. on their return, they settled at 18 St Ann’s villas, Holland Park, and, for a while, he continued to work in his established vein, sending the results to the RA and the British Institution, which were generally well received. however, in 1856, he sold the ‘props’ of his studio, and turned to landscape painting. Taking his time to develop, he exhibited his first example – Coast of Sark; the Receded Tide at the Port du Moulin – only in 1858, at the Portland Gallery; a notice in The Times described it as, ‘After [henry] Moore’s “oak Coppice” ... the finest landscape here’. Soon after, he and his wife moved to 2 Percy Street, in the artists’ quarter north of Oxford Street.
During the 1860s, Naish concentrated on the coastlines of Cornwall and Devon, and painted seascapes, with and without figures, with an almost Pre-Raphaelite intensity, so leading the critic, James Dafforne, to compare him to John Brett, James Clark hook and John William Inchbold. In 1867, he and his wife moved to Ilfracombe, North Devon, and settled at a villa in Wilder Road (known variously as Runnacleave and Runnymede), their home for the rest of their lives. he seems to have gained a prominent position in the town, living on income from properties and serving as a Justice of the Peace. he may have known the landscape painter, Albert Goodwin, who also lived in Ilfracombe from the late 1870s. C L Morgan’s Animal Life and Intelligence, of 1895, reports that Naish taught his cockatoo the trick of lying on his back ‘with his paws together’ in response to the question ‘Will you die for the queen, like a loyal soldier?’ his wife Charlotte, who was six years his elder, died in the 1890s, while he lived on until March 1905. he bequeathed £1000 to the ministers of three churches in Ilfracombe. Further reading
James Dafforne, ‘The Works of John George Naish’, The Art Journal, 1875, pages 325-328