David Lloyd Blackwood
CPE CSGA CSPWC OSA RCA
Barbour’s 'Seabird' Leaving Newtown (Bonavista Bay)
oil tempera on board
signed and dated 2003 and on verso signed, titled and dated 2002 - 2003
48 x 60 in 121.9 x 152.4 cm
Abbozzo Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
The Seabird, the ship depicted in this painting, lived a dramatic life. It is also a unique example within David Blackwood’s typical depictions of sailing vessels. Rather than a schooner such as the Nickerson captained by his father, Edward Bishop Blackwood, the Seabird was a yacht – built as a purely recreational vessel and not as a working craft. It was at one point owned by Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl (1841 – 1926). Every summer, Lord Dunraven would sail with Queen Victoria on the Seabird to Obsorne House, the Queen’s summer home on the Isle of Wight, and he even fitted the ship with a specialized brass ladder that allowed her to board and depart with more ease. Dunraven also raced the ship annually at Cowes in the prestigious America’s Cup as a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.
As the legend of the purchase of the Seabird goes, however, Lord Dunraven had accumulated some unfortunate gambling debts, and he sold the vessel to Captain Edward Barbour in a cash transaction for £3,000. Captain Barbour was in England as a part of a delegation of pre-eminent Newfoundlanders sent to attend the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. The Barbours of Newtown, as Captain Barbour’s family was referred to, were a prominent family in the region, boasting some 20 captains in their lineage. After the purchase, a crew was sent for from Newfoundland, and when they arrived, they made the voyage back across the Atlantic. The ship was luxurious - it was decked out with brass fittings and cabins lined in mahogany, each with its own porcelain stove. It was a pleasure craft of royal distinction. Captain Barbour enjoyed sailing it, of course, but knew that his enjoyment would be short-lived – it would have to be converted into a working vessel for one of the many maritime industries necessary to life and employment in the Atlantic provinces. It was stripped of its brass and mahogany, re-purposed as a fishing vessel, and was eventually lost in 1953, while hauling a load of coal from the Sydney Mines in Nova Scotia. The artist last saw the vessel when he was 12 years old, just before its demise. Its memory is a stark reminder of the demands of life in this part of the world and the rigid practicalities it puts in place.
Blackwood’s depictions of the ship began with a chance encounter. He was painting watercolour sketches outdoors when a sudden rainfall began. He took shelter at the home of Elsie Barbour, the sister of Captain Carl Barbour. Aside from being a master mariner, Carl Barbour was also an important “outsider” artist. His work, executed in a simple and direct style, depicted the history and culture of the region, and a posthumous retrospective of his work entitled Painting the Past was held in August of 1992 at the Art Gallery at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.
On this particular day, Blackwood found himself face to face with one of Captain Barbour’s depictions of the Seabird. He asked permission to do an on-the-spot watercolour sketch of it, which led to other drawings, watercolours, etchings and large-scale paintings such as this one. The bold and imposing palette of the sails offset against the gentle yet dramatic crepuscular sky is a wonderful reminder that Blackwood is not simply an accomplished draughtsman, but also a formidable colourist. As with all of Blackwood’s nautical compositions, the sails and rigging are rendered with fidelity, as are the nautical flags.
As displayed in The International Code: Flags for David Judah, lot 18 in this sale, nautical flags conveyed messages not only of necessity, but also of purpose and identity. In this work, the most central flag flying from the mainsail, composed of three sections of white set in red, is the Barbour House Flag. To its left is the Red Ensign, the flag flown by all Canadian commercial sailing vessels before 1965, also flown off the stern. The leftmost flag is the Lodge Flag of the Society of United Fishermen – a union flag. The two most prominent flags flying from the foremast are the flag of the Masonic Lodge and the blue and white House Flag of the Job Brothers, the merchant firm that backed the Barbour family in Newtown. A striking and iconic painting, Barbour’s ‘Seabird’ Leaving Newtown (Bonavista Bay) stands as a monument to the triumphs and trials of life on the Labrador Sea.
The Seabird in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland, circa 1930s
Photo: courtesy of E.P. Taylor Library & Archives, Art Gallery of Ontario, David Blackwood fonds
Available for viewing at: Heffel Vancouver
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