Stanley Royle artist

An appraisal of Stanley Royle's painting

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'View from the Cupola, Derbyshire' by Stanley Royle, 1924
'View from the Cupola' 1934

When, to my delight, I was allowed to miss three days of school as a child, so my grandfather could paint my portrait, I had no idea that I would eventually find myself looking over his achievements from the standpoint of an artist and tutor, and studying his development from talented student to well-respected artist, whose works continue to attract wide interest from art dealers and enthusiasts as well as from many art lovers in Sheffield, where he lived and emerged above all as a highly regarded painter of the local landscape.

Stanley Royle’s paintings have become increasingly popular with collectors since his death in 1961, and as a Sheffield artist, his works still attract considerable interest among art collectors. They are much loved and admired by local people, and will always be viewed with pleasure by those wishing to remember the exhilarating beauty of the ‘great outdoors,’ he so well portrayed.

'The Packhorse Bridge, Ashopton, Derwent' by Stanley Royle, 1925
'Pack Horse Bridge, Derwent' 1925

Some of this interest may be attributed to nostalgia, but his prolific output of works depicting the city, the surrounding Peak District with its moors and hills, the picturesque villages, the bridges and the rustic farm buildings in their rural settings, so easily accessible from Sheffield, are much more than a mere record of the past. These, of course, are also only a part of the immense body of work he produced in his lifetime, a sizeable amount of which was done in Canada and in other localities abroad and in the British Isles.

Despite his humble view of himself as an artist, the quality of his painting becomes easier to appreciate the more it is studied. His solid background training at Sheffield School of Art, his studies in London and the influences of painters like Arnesby Brown and George Clausen, and of masters such as Seurat, Millet and Corot helped to build a deep knowledge of composition, perspective, colour and light values through which he was able to express the subjects of his choice with considerable skill and expertise.

His style was always traditional, but the confident, bold brushwork in his landscapes is at times almost abstract in character, and shows his eye for the broader picture so appropriate to landscape painting. Examples of this type of approach are some of his quick oil sketches done in situ, one being ‘Potato Pickers’ (c 1950), in which an overcast sky of large cloud forms in various greys takes up two thirds of the painting, and the landscape, with horse and cart and workers in the Nottinghamshire field, are expressed with fresh, thick dabs, bars and down strokes in the middle and distance, while the foreground of earth and low vegetation is vigorously worked in lively smaller marks, not unlike the textural effects of a Van Gogh, and with a pleasing balance of warm with cool and subtle nuances of broken colour.

'Morning on the Derbyshire Moors' by Stanley Royle, 1920
'Morning on the Derbyshire Moors' 1920

Although his figures are not the strongest features of his paintings, again there is a lack of fussiness in the portrayal of them in some of the less commercially conceived of his works, in which large figures are set in a landscape, for example ‘Morning on the Derbyshire Moors’ (1920). The expression is simply achieved with the minimum of brush strokes, yet perfectly captures the light values and the forms of the figure, and the folds in the dress. Here already is the simplified background with the bars of colour, and the foreground owes something to Pointillism, where small dots of paint are used to effectively reproduce the heather flowers.

'Evening Light,  Moraine Lake, Canadian Rockies' by Stanley Royle 1939
' Moraine Lake, Evening Light' 1939

As a colourist, Royle was a most accomplished artist with as sound a knowledge of the subject as he had of compositional discipline. Some of his finest examples are his Canadian paintings, such as his Moraine Lake and Peggy’s Cove compositions, of which ‘Evening Light, Moraine Lake, Canadian Rockies’ (1939) stands out, for it not only captures the hugeness and overpowering bulk of the mountains, but also the stirring contrast between the larger areas of shadowed rocks, painted in cool, subdued greys, greens, browns and a subtle blue, and the small, high, sunlit facets highlighted in brilliant, warm patches, illustrating the artist’s mastery of the treatment of light and shade. At the base of the mountains is the stretch of intense blue water with reflections simply expressed, and more subdued colour in the debris in the foreground.

'Rock Pool with a Fisherman Drying Nets, Peggy's Cove' by Stanley Royle, 1943
'Rock Pool with Fisherman' 1943

There are many other wonderful examples of his Canadian maritime works which illustrate his technical ability in the expression of the varying moods according to time of day, the changing seasons and other aspects affecting colour and light in the same localities. However, this is generally true of any of his paintings of favourite topographical subjects, including Sheffield.

'Sheffield from the Mayfields Valley, near Ringinglowe' by Stanley Royle, 1923
'Sheffield from Mayfields' c. 1920

He was happier painting winter scenes; he found the varied colours of winter inspirational compared with the predominately green summer landscape, and was oblivious to the freezing temperatures as he sat outside to paint in the snow, which he loved. He executed a number of superb snow scenes, of which an example of the finest, if not the finest, is one of his four views of Sheffield painted in the early 1920s, ‘Sheffield From Mayfields, Near Ringinglowe’.

Stanley Royle has described in his own words how he arrived at a completed painting, starting with a 16” x 20” oil sketch in situ, which he then used in the studio, along with pencil studies of salient features, in order to familiarise himself with the locality. Although he valued design, colour and spontaneity, he stated, “I must endeavour to make my forms have their particular textures and stand solid in space.”

'Landscape by the Sea' by Stanley Royle (not dated)
'Landscape by the Sea' undated
Stanley Royle painting, circa 1950
Stanley Royle painting c. 1950

However, his description of how he produced the oil sketches captures the fervour with which he initially attacked his subject. After weighing up the subject in terms of composition, rhythms, colour and tone values etc, until he could visualise the finished painting, he proceeded with the oil sketch, which was supported on the raised lid of his paintbox resting on his knees. His description runs thus: “This is painted within an hour’s time, at fever heat, whilst the impression is dominant, and of primary importance for reference when making the final painting.”

'Trees' by Stanley Royle, pastel on paper, undated
'Trees' pastel on paper

Although most works were done in oils, he was an accomplished watercolourist and worked skillfully in pastel. What he would have made of today’s modern colouring mediums is a point of conjecture, but it is unlikely that he would have found acrylics to his liking, even on his quick sketches, for the limited range of colour, lack of sensitivity, the unearthly glow in artificial light, and the impossibility of pushing them around on the painting surface, because of their rapid drying properties, would almost certainly have frustrated him.

'Hayfield with Stooks' by Stanley Royle, undated
'Hayfield with Stooks' undated

Many works have travelled to various parts of the world, but still ‘new’ paintings continue to turn up which are testimony to Stanley Royle’s dedication to his art, and to his prolific output. As he wrote, “I enjoy working out the patterns of contour and colour suggested by the sunlight and fleeting shadows across the meadow and rocks and ocean; but I also enjoy the feel of the grass under my feet, the solidity of the rock, and the feel of the paint as I apply it to the canvas. Trying to get a perfect fusion of these interests will keep me happily employed for the rest of my life.” It would seem that this was the case throughout his entire career, during which he found true recognition, and he is now established as an English Post Impressionist of quality and distinction.