Object Image

The Toiler's Return

Goodwin came from a family of artists and was primarily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood during the early stages of his career. Having a marked proclivity for landscape painting, Goodwin was mentored by Ford Madox Brown (the most interested of the Pre-Raphaelites in pure landscape painting). Brown’s influence is notable in Goodwin’s use of the strong prismatic colours, emphasis on surface pattern rather than spatial depth, concern with atmosphere and poetic effect (often to a point of quaintness).

The scene depicts a family in the foreground gazing out to sea, expectantly awaiting the return of, presumably, the husband and father of the figures pictured. The length of their shadows suggests the scene is set around midday. It is likely the ‘Toiler’ is a sailor or fisherman. In the distance, Goodwin delicately suggests boats arriving into the harbour around the headland bringing sailors back to shore. Down in the bay, nets and washing are shown hanging out to dry whilst people gather at the shore line to welcome the men off the boats. Fishing communities were familiar with the real risk to life their trade posed; families such as these would have been anxious until their male relatives returned safely home.

The painting portrays a view from the clifftop at Lynton, looking out over the harbour at Lynmouth, a small fishing village on the North Devon coast. Goodwin moved to the nearby town of Ifracombe in 1872 (two years after the arrival of the railway) and painted the area many times. In The Toiler’s Return, Goodwin depicts Lynmouth’s

recognisable harbour arm and tower (known as Reginald’s Tower) which were destroyed in a flooding disaster of 1952 and later rebuilt. The long thatched building is thought to be the Rising Sun Public House. Visible in the distance are the long poles or withies, still used today at Lynmouth, which mark the deep channel along which returning fishing boats will enter the harbour.

Oil on canvas
97.0 x 142.0cm
Images and text © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London, 2017

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