Wharfedale, on the border between West and North Yorkshire, offers painters glorious river and landscape scenes at every bend, and particularly along the upper section of the river from its source at Langstrothdale, downstream to Otley.
According to the Victorian art critic, John Ruskin, author of Modern Painters, the famous landscape painter JMW Turner was moved to tears by the beauty he found while visiting Yorkshire, including along both the Wharfe and Aire valleys, and the artist frequently returned to the region to paint, using Farnley Hall, near Otley, as his base. For example, around 1818, Turner painted, ‘A Lonely Dell, Wharfedale’, illustrated below.
Since Turner visited Wharfedale, countless numbers of of amateur and professional artists have painted the river and its valley, but this article highlights the professional local artists that lived or still live along its banks.
Arthur Reginald Smith (1871 – 1934) was drowned in the River Wharfe. It was a river he loved to paint, and he made his home in Wharfedale, at Threshfield. He was a very successful landscape painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy and other prestigious shows, including the Fine Arts Society, where he exhibited over 400 of his paintings. He also worked as an art tutor at Keighley College and illustrated Halliwell Sutcliffe’s book, The Striding Dales (1929). Smith went missing near The Strid on the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey on the 14th September, 1934. His sketching bag was found by The Strid and his body was found eleven days later downstream. The circumstances of his death have never been satisfactorily explained.
John Frederic Greenwood (1885-1954) lived most of his life at Ilkley and died there. Although he painted in watercolour, he is best remembered for his striking wood engravings. Four of his engravings of Wharfedale scenes were shown at the the First International Exhibition of Lithography and Wood Engraving, 1929, in Chicago (see example below). He was appointed Head of Design at the Bradford School of Art from 1928 – 1937, before moving to Leeds College of Art, where he was the Head of Industrial Design & Crafts until his retirement in 1948.
Reginald Brundrit (1883-1960) was born in Liverpool, but had strong associations with the Bradford area, including a general education at Bradford Grammar School and initial art training at Bradford School of Art. He built a successful career as a portrait and landscape painter and was a full member of the Royal Academy. In 1938, after living and working in London, he moved to Yorkshire and had a studio at Linton, near Grassington. The Wharfe Valley often featured in his work (see example below and in the introduction, above).
Herbert Royle (1870-1958) was born in Lancashire, but lived for much of his life in the Wharfe Valley at Nessfield, near Ilkley. The landscape below his home inspired his work and his winter landscapes of the Wharfedale were reproduced on Christmas cards, bringing his paintings to the wider attention of the public beyond Yorkshire. His paintings became very popular and still command high prices at auction and in galleries today.
Bradford born artist, Jack Hellewell (1920 – 2000), painted mainly in acrylic in an expressionist style, often taking the Yorkshire landscape, particularly around the Wharfe Valley, as his inspiration. Jack’s work was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in the 1990s and his work is in the collections of British Rail, the National Power Company, Rochdale Art Gallery, Manchester City Art Gallery and Provident Financial, Bradford. He lived at Ilkley.
Brian Irving (1931-2013) was born into a Bradford farming family, but later moved to live and work in the Wharfe Valley, near Bolton Abbey, where he was a sheep farmer and milk roundsman. He was a self-taught artist, working mainly in watercolour, and the Dales landscape, and the people who worked there, were the focus of his work. In 1981 he had a solo exhibition at a gallery in Ilkley, where his landscape paintings proved popular. In 1983 he took over the running of the Cottage Gallery, Skipton, where, throughout the 1980s and 90s, he displayed and sold his paintings. He spent the last 30 years of his life living near Kilnsey in the Wharfe Valley.
Wharfedale Artists Today
Wharfedale today still attracts artists from across the UK and overseas. However, there are a significant number of Bradford district artists who live along its banks, particularly in the Ilkley area, and whose work regularly feature images inspired by the river, its valley, and uplands surrounding it.
Ilkley-based artist, Joy Godfrey, has worked in a variety of art mediums, including silk screen printing, bronze casting, etching and more recently painting in oils and watercolour. Although her subjects are wide, the landscape of Wharfedale, including Ilkley Moor, is a recurring motif in her paintings and prints. Her work has been exhibited in both group and solo shows across Yorkshire, including at Lotherton Hall, York City Art Gallery, Dean Clough, Cartwright Hall, Bradford University, and Bradford Industrial Museum; and in London at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
Brian Hindmarch: artist, printmaker, designer and teacher, has a studio in Ilkley and was a lecturer in Graphic Design at Bradford College, School of Art, for over 20 years, from 1992-2013. He applies a wide range of graphic design techniques and processes, including photography, etching, letterpress, lithography, screenprint and relief print, and he has a particular interest in interpreting natural history, environment and landscape in his work, which includes images of Wharfedale.
Greg Learmonth is a largely self-taught professional painter, living in the Ilkley area. His subjects are predominantly impressionistic landscape scenes, particularly of Wharfedale, as well as in Brittany, France. He is the President of the Burley Art Club and exhibits his work widely in Yorkshire and elsewhere. He is a member of the British Society of Painters and a Companion of the International Guild of Artists.
Landscape artist and local art teacher, Nigel Overton, lives in Ilkley, where he has a studio. He sketches and paints predominantly land and seascapes, using a variety of art medium, but particularly acrylics. The River Wharfe and its valley are often depicted in his work. His work has been exhibited widely across Yorkshire, and elsewhere.
Lucia Smith is a landscape painter based in Ilkley, where she has lived for twenty years. She works predominantly with soft pastel, although will often use other media for underpinning. Her work is strongly influenced by the Yorkshire landscape around her home, particularly the Wharfe Valley. Lucia has exhibited her work in UK galleries around Yorkshire, the Midlands, and overseas in Australia.
Kerry Stoker is an Ilkley based artist. She works mainly with acrylic, but also in oil, watercolour and oil pastel. Her subjects are varied, but Wharfedale has inspired both her contemporary and representational work. Her paintings regularly feature in the Ilkley Art Trail and she has exhibited at the Saltaire Arts Trail, Yorkshire Watercolour Society, Society of British Artists, Society of Women Artists in London, and at ‘Art for Youth’ exhibitions in London, Sheffield and North Yorkshire.
Geraldine Thompson has a studio at Addingham, near Ilkley. Although she paints a variety of subjects, including portraits, the Yorkshire landscape around her home often features in her work. Her paintings have been exhibited in London and widely across Yorkshire, including at the Dean Clough Gallery. She also has over 30 years of art teaching experience at all levels, from beginners to post-graduate students.
‘Art and Yorkshire: From Turner to Hockney’ (2014) by Jane Sellars, published by Great Northern Books.