Talented life of artist and boat designer

The painting, sailing boats at sunset near Scarborough by Albert Strange.
The painting, sailing boats at sunset near Scarborough by Albert Strange.

Red sails in the sunset – this glorious painting is by Albert Strange, a splendidly named man whose many accomplishments mean he is still remembered and loved today by yachtsmen and lovers of maritime art all around the world.

He was a genuine polymath: a talented artist, writer, adventurer, sailor and yacht designer whose craft are still much sought after, and whose intelligent writings are seen as a significant contribution to the development of the seaworthy cruising yacht.

Strange was born in 1855 in Gravesend, Kent, where he first learned to sail and developed his life-long love of the pastime on the lower River Thames. At the age of 17, he got his first boat, the Dauntless – a 40-year-old fishing boat, appropriate as he spent many of his teenage years learning his skills from the local fishermen.

He studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and the Leicester College of Arts and Crafts, subsequently teaching in Liverpool for several years before taking a job as headmaster of Scarborough’s new Government School of Art in 1882, a position he held for 35 years until his death in 1917.

Within just a few years this relatively inexperienced teacher had established the school as one of the leading art schools in the country, with a roll call of pupils that included many well known names, including some whose work can be seen in Scarborough Art Gallery: Frank Henry Mason (look out for a major retrospective of his work at the gallery in September), Richard Clarke, and brothers Ernest and Frank Dade and Charles and Harry Wanless among them.

Strange himself exhibited many times at the Royal Academy between 1882 and 1897.

His marine paintings are particularly fine, inspired and informed by his depth of knowledge and love of sailing and the sea. But he was also a well-known designer of yachts, and a member of both the Scarborough Yacht Club and the Humber Yawl Club, an organisation formed in 1883 by a group of canoeists who felt that the Humber Estuary deserved a craft more suited to the sea.

They developed a type of sailing canoe with a yawl, or two-masted, rig – lightweight craft which were easy to rescue if they became beached on the treacherous mud flats of the Humber Estuary, but had cabins which made them suitable for longer journeys. Strange was to design many such boats, possibly as many as 150, and most of his original designs are in the collections of the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut; Strange is one of only three non-American designers to be represented in the collection.

Another member of the Humber Yawl Club was George Holmes, and Strange and Holmes were to make many journeys together, which they recorded in words, drawings and paintings for the magazine The Yachting Monthly, and for the club yearbooks.

The pair and another early member of the Humber Yawl Club, John Henry Lonsdale, are celebrated in a new exhibition at the Beverley Treasure House (until October 10). Three Men and Their Boats looks at the trio’s writings, artwork, photography and designs, focusing on the first two decades of the club, which was formed in 1883, and including original drawings, paintings and prints, and artefacts such as those beautifully illustrated club yearbooks.

Our exhibit today, an oil on board of sailing boats at sunset near Scarborough, is on loan to the exhibition from the Scarborough Collections, along with two watercolours, also by Strange.

They are all items from the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.

You can find out more about Three Man and Their Boats here: www.museums.eastriding.gov.uk/treasure-house-and-beverley-art-gallery/

And for more information on Strange and his work and friends, take a look at the excellent website of the Albert Strange Association, to which we’re indebted for much of the above information: www.albertstrange.org