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Dod Procter Still Life

A House Fit for an Artist | Dod Procter

Essay by Lydia Miller

In December 2019, a large double-fronted stone cottage in Newlyn, Cornwall was sold. 27 North Corner boasted four bedrooms, a garage and a parking space (a rarity in Newlyn), and an ‘oasis like garden’ set across a number of different terraces. This cottage is the quintessential Cornish property, but it is also unassuming, tucked away down a side street behind Newlyn harbour.[Fig. 1] You’d never guess that for almost fifty years, it was the home of Dod Procter (1890-1972), and both the house and the garden provided inspiration for the artist.

Procter is best known for her portraits of young women and girls. She ‘portrayed aspects of the awakening, social or sexual, of young females, always presented in a tender and essentially feminine way.’[1] Her most famous painting, Morning,[Fig.2] a portrait of Cissie Barnes, the daughter of a Newlyn fisherman, was awarded ‘picture of the year’ at the Royal Academy in 1927. It was subsequently bought for the nation by the Daily Mail and, rather bizarrely, was exhibited on two transatlantic liners to entertain passengers before permanently entering the collection at Tate. In contrast, the softly-focused and uninhibited paintings of Myrtle Cottage and North Corner by Dod have often been overlooked, and yet they are significant additions to her oeuvre, depicting the unique artistic environment of Newlyn.

[Fig.2] Dod Procter Morning 1926
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Dod first came to Newlyn as Doris Shaw with her mother and brother at the age of fifteen. She was enrolled at Stanhope Forbes' Newlyn School of Painting from 1907; a school that was successfully attracting a new generation of artists to the area. Dod's mother, Eunice, rented one of the larger cottages in the town, Myrtle Cottage, and took in several of Forbes' students as lodgers.[2] It is likely that whilst living amongst these students and studying art herself, Dod began to understand her home as an artistic environment steeped in inspiration. Unlike her sculpturesque portraits of women, which display an almost stoic classicism, the paintings that Dod created of her home have a sense of warmth and familiarity. In the 1930s she produced Kitchen at Myrtle Cottage (Tate), a nostalgic painting of a young girl from the town, sat alone at a kitchen table set with plates and cups. The bohemian kitchen and the blue dresser, packed with hand-painted crockery, was a look that Dod recreated in her own home at North Corner. In fact, she recreated this exact scene in The Quiet Hour (The New Art Gallery Walsall) painted in 1935 at North Corner - depicting a girl (possibly the same model a year or two older) sat at a breakfast table, with her head leaning on her hand and a blue dresser behind. The blue dresser at North Corner is painted again in two versions of Flowers on a Dresser, one of which depicts painted gold detailing of suns around the dresser drawers, a decorative feature that may have been painted by Dod or her husband Ernest.[3] The hand-painted crockery and copper jugs on the dresser also appear on another piece of furniture in Girl with a Parrot (previously with Philip Mould & Company). [Fig. 3]

[Fig. 3] Dod Procter Girl with a Parrot c.1925
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In 1912, Dod Shaw married Ernest Procter, an artist who had studied with her at Forbes' art school and then in Paris. The couple often exhibited together and were described by the art critic Frank Rutter as 'two of the most gifted and original artists of the younger generation' and by The Sphere as the 'artistic rulers of Newlyn'.[4] In 1923, Dod and Ernest bought 27 North Corner; this property was initially two cottages with a large pilchard press, marinating yard and a net-loft behind.[5] It needed a complete renovation, a task that Dod and Ernest undertook themselves.[6] Ernest built a wall and steps in the yard;

'a stone terrace being the width of the house, a walled stairway where ferns flourished, a small formal parterre with four conical yews and, at the far end of the plot, a shady arbour overhung by trees. With an eye for the unusual, he [Ernest] carefully positioned ships' figureheads, pressing stones from the fish press and a pair of Burmese dragons bought during their trip to Rangoon to give the garden its individual character.'[7]

Dod became an avid gardener at this time, growing exotic plants and flowers that she would fervently paint. It is likely that The Rock Garden (private collection), exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in 1932, was one of Dod and Ernest's garden creations. Dod painted both the house and the garden several times successfully capturing the different seasons, for example Winter Scene from the Artist's House, Newlyn (Bristol Museum & Art Gallery).[8] The garden was a space that had been transformed by the couple into a 'magical garden, with grottos and brilliant patches of coloured planting'; a space of endless possibilities of which to paint.[9]

On the house’s completion, it was described by art historian and critic R.H. Wilenski as ‘a charming modern house, with bright blue doors and panelled halls, adorned with pillars carved by Ernest Procter in his leisure hours.’ The garden was described as ‘Dutch’ in style ‘with different views across the bay.’[10]  The views across Newlyn harbour were captured in Early Morning, Newlyn (Glynn Vivian Art Gallery), one of Dod’s most accomplished paintings of the town. In this painting, dating to 1926, she weaves together a tapestry of tessellated rooftops which are framed by the curvature of the Old Quay arching around the top of the painting. Early Morning [Fig. 4] was painted the year before Dod Procter became famous for her portrait of Cissie Barnes, Morning. Despite her success from 1927 as one of the most interesting female artists of the period, Dod Procter never failed to find inspiration at her home and garden at 27 North Corner in Newlyn.

Lydia Miller

Lydia is currently working on her PhD at the University of York and is Assistant Curator, Cross-Collections at the National Portrait Gallery.

[1] A King, Newlyn Flowers: The Floral Art of Dod Procter (Bloomsbury USA, 2005), 7.

[2] A King. Newlyn Flowers: The Floral Art of Dod Procter, 11.

[3] There are two versions of Flowers on a Dresser, both of which have been sold by David Messum, locations now unknown. ‘David Messum’, Country Life 191, no. 8 (February 1997): 26. King, Newlyn Flowers: The Floral Art of Dod Procter, 88.

[4] Frank Rutter, ‘The Galleries: Ernest and Dod Procter’, editorial, The Sunday Times, 11 November 1925. ‘The Art of Dod and Ernest Procter’, editorial, The Sphere, 3 December 1927.

[5] A King, Newlyn Flowers: The Floral Art of Dod Procter (Bloomsbury USA, 2005), 35. ‘Mr. Ernest Procter’, The Cornishman, 26th December 1935, 3.

[6] A King, Newlyn Flowers: The Floral Art of Dod Procter, 35.

[7] A King. Newlyn Flowers: The Floral Art of Dod Procter, 35.

[8] The paintings Dod Procter produced of the garden at North Corner: Garden at North Corner, In the Garden, In the Greenhouse, Breakfast in the Garden and Winter Scene from the Artist's House, Newlyn.

[9] Judith Collins, Procter [née Shaw], Doris Margaret [Dod] (1890–1972), painter (Oxford University Press, 2009), accessed doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40917.

[10] R.H. Wilenski, ‘Newlyn Comes to London: Ernest and Dod Procter’s Pictures’, editorial, The Graphic, 5 December 1925.

Bibliography

Collins, Judith. ‘Procter [Née Shaw], Doris Margaret [Dod] (1890–1972), Painter’. Oxford University Press, 2009. Accessed doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40917.

‘David Messum’. Country Life 191, no. 8 (February 1997): 26.

King, A. Newlyn Flowers: The Floral Art of Dod Procter. Bloomsbury USA, 2005.

‘Mr. Ernest Procter’. Editorial. Cornishman, 1935.

Rutter, Frank. ‘The Galleries: Ernest and Dod Procter’. Editorial. The Sunday Times. 11 November 1925.

‘The Art of Dod and Ernest Procter’. Editorial. The Sphere, 3 December 1927.

Wilenski, R.H. ‘Newlyn Comes to London: Ernest and Dod Procter’s Pictures’. Editorial. The Graphic, 5 December 1925.

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