Artwork of the Month - February 2006
Grey Pony in Front of a Vinery
Artist: Denys Corbet (1826-1910)
Medium: Oil on board
Status: Permanent collection
Item No.: GMAG 1981.662
Naïve Art in Britain
Denys Corbet's painting of a Grey Pony in front of a Vinery is an example of artwork usually classified as Naïve art. This type of painting is also known as Folk, Provincial, Vernacular and even Primitive Art, and is viewed typically as being the work of the artisan rather than the artist.
In Britain Naïve artists often developed their skill of painting through trades such as sign painting and even boat painting. They used paint as part of their trade and therefore the natural progression from their everyday work to easel painting was relatively easy. The subject matter depicted by these Naïve artists was often farm animals and ships as well as people, and the paintings were used very much as records rather than as a realistic depiction of the subject. This did not prevent these artists, many of them anonymous, going beyond this simple naïve depiction and producing artistic works that have a unique artistry of their own.
Naïve Art Rediscovered
In England this artistry was not fully recognised until as late as the 1920's, when Ben Nicholson, the St Ives School painter discovered the amateur artist Alfred Wallis who had started painting late in life after his wife had died. Wallis painted what he knew and loved - the town, harbour and boats of St Ives. Naïve art from further-a-field was recognised around 15 years earlier by early Modernist artists who were inspired by African and Oceanic Primitive art
The painting of the Grey Pony in front of a Vinery by Corbet is a local example of Naïve art. But it appears that Corbet's painting did not develop through an artisan trade, but through an interest in the arts. He was a school-master and also wrote poetry in English, French and Guernsey-French, and therefore was a man of letters rather than of trade.
The painting of the Grey Pony is typical of Naïve art in terms of what it is portraying. The painting is a straight forward record of the pony itself (an expensive commodity), but placing it in front of a vinery also suggests that the owner of the pony was also the owner of the vinery. This all adds up to a record of wealth and property. This use of Naïve art to illustrate a persons' or families' social standing and wealth is very common.
Corbet's Self Portrait
While we are examining the painting of the Grey Pony it is also interesting to examine Corbet's self portrait. In this self portrait Corbet chooses to depict himself as an artist, in a pose typically used by artists throughout the centuries - in front of his easel, brush and palette in-hand.
This may suggest that he saw the Naïve style fitting in within the fine art tradition rather than that of the artisan. This recognition of the Naïve painter as a true artist could indicate that Corbet was ahead of his time, by elevating the Naïve artist to the level of fine or academic artist through this self portrait.