You need to know about: Edward King

I recently visited Portsmouth Museum, and those who are familiar with Portsmouth are aware of it’s rich naval history and museums relating to such. However, I was pleasantly surprised to have been greeted with an art exhibition as the first port-of-call there. The artist in question is the quite unknown Edward King. Born in 1862, and living through both wars, he died of a stroke at St James’ Hospital in Portsmouth in 1951. He made the move to St James’ after a breakdown after the death of his wife. Consequently he was plagued by depression, and spent 26 years in the institution. But rather like many other famous artists, King’s work was revered during these troubled times.

“If you can see light, shade and shadow, you can paint and the picture will come.”  – Edward King.

The exhibition was split into lose segments, grouping his work into themes such as his work depicting the WWII bombing of Portsmouth, fishing, and rural scenes. His painting technique includes a particularly warm feeling even to those of bombed buildings. In turn this creates a sense of hope in the morning after, the feeling of warm sunshine that somehow belittles the harrowing nature of the attacks, and shows that Portsmouth will steadfastly carry on.

King, Edward; High Street, Old Portsmouth; Portsmouth Museums and Visitor Services;
King, Edward; High Street, Old Portsmouth; Portsmouth Museums and Visitor Services;

Another feature I observed was his use of near-impasto painting technique, as can be observed in Cabbage Field on the farm at St James’ Hospital, 1941 (see below). This use of impasto, alongside the use of perspective, draws you deep into the scene an creates the illusion you are either part of the farming staff, or a casual walker wondering past this beautiful scene. It does give you the impression that Edward King saw beauty in the darkest of his experiences, as St James’ Hospital was an Asylum.

In regards to the displaying and conveying of Edward King’s work and history, PM did a paired-back, engaging, but altogether wonderful job. I have seen comments from people who have wondered why his works aren’t available to see, this was a few years ago, and seems to be a man that belongs to Portsmouth. It is evident that the museum is lucky and holds an extensive collection, seeing as King gave many of his paintings away, and we are met by a self-portrait at the beginning giving us an immediate connection with this local man.

King, Edward; Self Portrait; Portsmouth Museums and Visitor Services;
King, Edward; Self Portrait; Portsmouth Museums and Visitor Services;

I enjoyed the basic but modern signage as it let the paintings do most of the story-telling. It was also the little touches, like the quotes and his signature on the walls, that helped to bring the character alive as well as the paintings. In terms of connecting this exhibition with the community, it was indeed minimal. However, the use of a washing-line with memories of Portsmouth residents pegged to it, plus the space in the centre for quiet study, acknowledged the city’s links with WWII and the University’s Art School. Moreover, it reminded people that like WWII, King has not left Portsmouth’s conciousness just yet, and his artistic influence will continue to stir up thought in people’s minds.

Photos from the exhibition


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