Mission San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano, CA




A Developing Nation: Ports & Harbors Coast to Coast, the Art of John Stobart


John Stobart. Cincinnati. From Covington's Riverfront in 1866.



Inspired by tradition, John Stobart serves as our historian and guide to life along the water. To the viewer, it seems as though Stobart stood a century ago along the ports and harbors he recreates for us. We can almost feel the effects of the weather and time of day and we learn about our history and our heritage through wonderfully descriptive narratives that have been compared to stories by Mark Twain and Joseph Conrad.

It was as a young art student that Stobart first experienced the work of John Constable and Jean Baptiste-Camille Corot. Constable's oil sketches told Stobart that he, too could develop simplicity and clarity in his work. Corot's paintings of outdoor subjects and architecture inspired Stobart's art. In these paintings, Stobart also found a quality of lights he had never before seen. The work of these artist deeply affected Stobart and prompted him to define his own artistic style.

Rigorous classical studies enabled Stobart to develop his talent and express his artistic style. At sixteen, Stobart began art studies at the College of Arts and Crafts in his hometown of Derby, England. Graduating four years later with high honors, Stobart earned a highly coveted scholarship to England's oldest and most prestigious art academy, the Royal Academy Schools in London. The artist completed another five years of studies in the very academy where Constable studied. And he learned how to create a truth similar to that which he admired in the work of Constable and Corot.

When he completed his academic career, Stobart traveled by ship to his father's new home in South Africa. While aboard the Braemer Castle, Stobart realized that his artistic future laid in a passion for ships and the sea he had discovered at eight years old. Stobart painted the Braemer Castle and quickly sold it to the Union Castle Line. Soon, the artist was on a tack that would carry his paintings of modern ships into boardrooms across England and North America.

For ten years, Stobart divided his time between England and Canada to satisfy the demands of his collectors. Then he made a discovery that would draw his talents in a new direction. Stobart learned that artists had recorded only a few nineteenth century American ports and harbors. Newly inspired, he took a six month sabbatical to learn about this subject. He later began the body of work that now helps to fill a void in American art and is his best known.

When Stobart had completed just four paintings, he traveled to New York City in search of a gallery that would show these new works. Luckily, his seat on the train was next to a man who held a prominent position in America's art world. This stranger suggested the Kennedy Galleries to Stobart, and Stobart took his advice. When the artist showed his paintings to Margaret Wunderlich at Kennedy Galleries, he immediately received an offer for a one-man show. This and several subsequent shows were all sell-outs.

Stobart then began an effort to bring his artistic ideals to a wider audience. He has done this through his art and through other means. His paintings and limited edition prints are collected around the world and seen by visitors of the Peabody Museum in Massachusetts and the Portland Museum in Maine. John Stobart's WorldScape I and II video series have enabled him to teach painting to a vast television audience. Stobart has also educated readers through his books on maritime painting. The Stobart Foundation continues to sponsor young painters who are influenced by the history and tradition of the open air painters. Through these many efforts, art lovers around the world can appreciate a bit of the art and life of the past through the art of today.



Mission Welcomes John Stobart, World Renown Maritime Artist



Mission San Juan Capistrano has opened an exhibition by world-famous maritime artist, historian, lecturer and author John Stobart entitled A Developing Nation: Ports & Harbors Coast to Coast, which continues through Oct. 8 (1997). The exhibition depicts 19th century sailing ships in major east and west coast ports as they would have appeared in that era, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Sacramento, San Pedro and Newport Beach. Also included are plein air (outdoor impressionist) works of famous locations around the world which were created for Stobart's PBS series, John Stobart's Worldscape.

Mission Administrator Jerry Miller, noting that Stobart is a top ranked painter in his field, remarks, "While the Mission has exhibited the work of some fine artists, John Stobart is truly among the best of the best." Stobart, 68, was born in Derby, England and studied art at England's premiere art academy, the Royal Academy School in London. Early influences on his work included painters John Constable and Jean Baptiste-Camille Corot. Upon completion of his academy studies, Stobart sailed to his father's new home in South Africa aboard the Braemer Castle, and as a result of the voyage knew he would devote his career to painting sailing vessels. He painted the Braemer Castle and quickly sold it to its owner, the Union Castle Line. He continued painting modern ships, which were purchased by major corporations and individual collectors in Europe and North America. A decade later, Stobart went on a six-month sabbatical to study infrequently-depicted 19th century American ports and harbors. He examined early etchings of field artists as well as early photographs, which date back to 1840. Another valuable source of information were books providing detailed accounts of sea voyages, such as the classic Two Years Before the Mast, written by sailor Richard Henry Dana (for whom Dana Point is named) about his voyage from Boston to California in 1835.

Stobart's new paintings of classic ships, ports and harbors were quickly in demand, as his work was displayed in the nation's most prestigious galleries. New York art broker Donald Holden was immediately impressed with Stobart's paintings, and praised Stobart as "a superb scholar and researcher--and a painter of immense skill." Once Stobart had achieved success in his field, he began a new emphasis in his career, passing on his painting skills to others. He established a school at his home in Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, and created a scholarship program to help struggling artists. At his own expense, he created his Worldscape PBS series, to teach painting to a vast television audience, and wrote an instructional book on painting. Always ready to encourage young artists, Stobart tells them, "Painting is a fabulous career, a wonderful way to put bread on the table."

Stobart is a traditionalist when it comes to painting. Becoming a quality painter, he opines, takes lengthy study and practice, beginning with classes in basic painting and drawing. He adds, however, that after learning the mechanics, a great artist is largely self-taught, and needs to practice his trade every day.

He laments that the majority of painters today create their paintings from photographs, insisting that painting on location reveals subtleties of lighting, color, texture, etc., that a photograph misses. He notes, "Art is about relating and interpreting, observing and executing." Stobart also enjoys painting on location because it gives him an opportunity to chat with curious passer-byers who stop to watch him create his art. Unlike some artists, Stobart enjoys answering the questions of an interested public, often cheerfully asking questions of his own. Applying a dab of paint, he might cheerfully ask, "There, how does that look?"

Stobart's work can be viewed on the world wide web at www.icglink.com/stobart. The exhibition is located in the Mission's Rancho Room; viewing free with admission to the Mission.

Read more about Mission San Juan Capistrano in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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