Obsessed with the work of Canaletto, the English painter was convinced that he could find beauty everywhere, even among the industrial rubble of the London suburbs. His works, which at first sight might appear to be snapshots or depictions of desolation, actually express all the lyricism and composition vivacity that cities often hide.
We stand in front of a deserted road on a spring morning. The place is Campden Hill, a suburb of London known for its Victorian villas. However, in the painting there are no villas, only buildings with an industrial feel, two rows of trees, and a road. A trip to Birmingham, the subject: the hall of memory, the war sanctuary that was recently inaugurated.
However, the true protagonists are the factory chimneys, running along a canal. A canal much like that of Regent’s Park, immortalized at sunset, or at midday, or perhaps like the Paddington basin, in a port area, with the ever-present smoke coming out of a working factory. Each fragment of nature for Algernon Newton intersects with the environment modified by mankind – a union that gives life to autonomous poetry that speaks for itself.
There is no criticism, no ideology here, just amazement. This is defined by painting of new things, which draws among the great masters who preceded the Impressionists. With an eye on Venice, it is not by chance that Newton would be nicknamed «The Canaletto of the canals», where the channels and canals are strictly artificial and mand-made.
Newton is a modern artist who was rediscovered by post-modern artists. For his works to be appreciated, we had to wait for a generation that knew how to grasp the melancholic side of the paintings in which human figures never appeared. This is an aspect that has a great deal in common with the biography of the artist. He was born in 1880 and died, almost unknown, around 1968. He lived alone, after having divorced as a young man, without even having the opportunity to see his children.
Today, the anthropic landscapes of Newton can be admired in one of the most prestigious public galleries in the United Kingdom, the Tate Museum of London. In particular, two paintings that are divided by thirty years: «The Surrey Canal, Camberwell», from 1935, in which anonymous buildings are mirrored in the water enveloped by the twilight, and «A Gleam of Sunlight», from 1966, one of the most bucolic works by the British artist. Only that there is nothing true in these works: «It is not any actual place but a complete composition. My aim was to express sunlight seen through a dark foreground» in Newton’s own words.
Therefore, this is a rather “mental” landscape, defined by moments of silence, which recalls the aesthetics and styles of one of his immediate predecessors: the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi. If Newton is the painter of the canals, Hammershøi, became known as that of “solitary rooms”. Most of his works follow a very precise approach to the canvas: a room, a bourgeois interior that might recall the settings of the dramas of another great Scandinavian: Henrik Ibsen.
There are very few details. We find only some common objects, perhaps a mirror. We also find a human figure, preferably from behind. This is a setting (and a style) that leaves the viewer a deep feeling of unrest, the same with which his compatriot and contemporary Søren Kierkegaard also faced. Hammershøi’s works find their home in the Danish national gallery in Copenhagen, but recently several exhibitions have been dedicated to him – the latest at the Scandinavian House in New York, a museum dedicated to art from Nordic countries, and even before that at the Royal Academy in London.