Petit can be celebrated as an artist for different reasons. In this on-line exhibition we give four: The ‘Pre-Impressionist’ , Artist of Victorian reality, Temples of Worship, and Art of Old Staffordshire. The first two reflecting latest research, the third and fourth covering themes well established over the past five years. Follow the links shown in blue for further pictures in each section. This exhibition has been created in September 2023 to replace that the chronological one 2020 so as to include the latest research and discoveries about Petit.
Painting with ‘immediacy… a quick, loose touch, daring viewpoints, together with a deliberate lack of finish, captured on paper the fugitive effects of nature…’ (RA Friends Magazine August 2023 p16). The words in quotes are from an introduction to the exhibition of the Impressionists on Paper at the Royal Academy. Yet they apply equally to much of Petit’s mature work produced twenty or more years earlier than that of the artists about which the words were written. Hence the title ‘Pre-Impressionist’ and the book JL Petit – Britain’s Lost Pre-Impressionist. This section includes landscape and marine pictures, and studies of rocks and trees.
Above, first of the four: Tintagel, 1861. Petit’s chose to paint a modernistic cliff coupled with the tin mine working, rather than the historical ruins on his visit to the location.
Right, Fishing boat off Torquay, 1848. Similar to an early Monet of 1866 in composition, style and intent.
For seven more pictures click here
Artist of Victorian reality
‘Few Victorian artists chose to bear witness to the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the fabric of life in this country, but Petit did anything but shy away from it: he painted factories and smogs with the same impassioned interest that he brought to the more traditional themes of the English watercolourist, such as village, church and cathedral. To look at his work is to see a familiar world changing out of all recognition, and to understand the pace at which it was happening.’ Andrew Graham-Dixon, 2022
Mid 19th Century the Pre-Rapaelites took British art in a backward looking historical and romantic direction, to be followed by the equally unworldly Aesthetic movement. These pictures are not simply a record but give an artist’s insight into the impact of change. This section includes industrial and urban pictures.
Above, 2nd of the four: Low Moor, Bierley, near Bradford, 1857. We are not aware of any other picture of these works from this period. Petit focuses on the architectural strength of the works.
Right: Paris, 1860. Notre Dame deliberately contrasted with the grubby banks of the Seine
For seven more pictures click here
Temples of Worship
‘In every country the temples devoted to worship are the richest, the most durable, and the most beautiful, among the structures remaining to us’ JL Petit 1841, Remarks on Church Architecture.
Petit studied medieval church architecture from the 1830s until his death in 1868. While some were just for his records, many were painted with more care and exhibited. Like portraits, they capture the character and effect of the most important architectural heritage across Europe, from Iona to Constantinople.
‘These pictures reveal Petit as an artist who knew both how to see and how to help us to see. They invite us into a vision that goes beyond a factual statement to show the majesty, the power, the solemnity, and the mystery of divine creation and human construction.’ Rt Rev M Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield, 2023
Above, 3rd of the four: Church Near Montreuil, 1839. The bell turret feature subsequently used in the church he built at Caerdeon, North Wales
Right, Whitby Abbey, 1845. In contrast to romantic depictions of ruins, Petit captures its spirituality and the savagery of the societies that built, and that ruined, the Abbey
For seven more picture, click here
Tours of Old Staffordshire
These are earlier works from his home county and the adjacent regions of South Derbyshire and East Shropshire, where he travelled and painted frequently in the 1830s. It shows how Petit started within the tradition of the British watercolourists of the first part of the century, and especially the looser tradition
epitomised by Cox, Cotman and de Wint. For these often overlooked Midlands regions there is no comparable historical artist. They were the basis for the book Petit’s Tours of Old Staffordshire (2019) locating each in its modern setting.
Above, 4th of the four: Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire, 1830s
Right: Thorpe Cloud, 1830s
For eight more pictures, see here