The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Gribble treasures revealed

Roger Guttridge on an important collection of paintings, previously unknown, by one of Poole’s leading artists

HMS Victory

Dorset Life has been given exclusive access to a private collection of twenty-five pictures by the leading Poole artist, Bernard Gribble. The collection includes oils, watercolours and pencil drawings, most of which have been in private hands since Gribble’s death in 1962 and have never been viewed by experts or the wider public. They include seascapes, for which Gribble is best-known, and more than a dozen townscapes and landscapes of Poole, Christchurch and other parts of Dorset and Devon. Poole subjects include the Guildhall (two), the old Customs House, the Quay and St James’s Church from Hamworthy, as well as ships off Brownsea Island. One waterside study, featuring boats, boatsheds, masts, an anchor and a red-brick house, remains unidentified but could be Poole, possibly at the eastern end of the Quay. A view of the coast from the sea is also unidentified but may be Dorset. Christchurch is represented through scenes of the Lobster Pot at Mudeford and the Priory from Christchurch Harbour.

The tea clipper John E Evans, which sailed on the Australian run

Poole Quay

Torpoint in Devon appears in two coastal scenes and the collection also includes an imposing view of the Knaresborough Viaduct in North Yorkshire. Several galleons, HMS Victory, the tea clippers John E Evans and Pamir, the racing yacht St Agnes and the Doge arriving in Venice are among the sail-powered vessels featured in the seascapes. Gribble’s view of a Tribal Class destroyer not only demonstrates his exceptional ability to bring the sea alive but, unusually, includes several gulls gliding above the waves.

The owner of the twenty-five pictures contacted me after reading my article about Gribble in Dorset Life for October 2001. For security reasons, he wishes to be known only by his first name of Tom. He inherited most of the pictures from his father, who was Gribble’s family doctor and executor, but has also bought several. A few other Gribbles are owned by relatives of Tom in Ireland and the USA.

Poole Guildhall

Tom is hoping that sharing the images through the pages of Dorset Life will increase public awareness of Gribble and his work and perhaps lead to a new exhibition of his art in Poole. Poole Museums own the world’s largest collection of Gribble material, including about 250 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs by both Bernard and his architect father, Herbert, best-known as the designer of the Brompton Oratory. ‘Most of these pictures were bequeathed to Poole by Bernard’s wife, Nellie, in 1963 but I don’t know how many of them have ever been exhibited,’ says Tom.

Galleons (pencil)

Sue Beckett, Collections Officer for the Borough of Poole Museum Service, says, ‘There are over 140 paintings and drawings by Bernard Gribble in the museum collections, the two largest of which are currently displayed in the Civic Centre. We have exhibited Gribble’s work frequently in the past, and will certainly be doing so again over the coming years in the newly refurbished Poole Museum, which will be re-opening this summer.’

A Tribal Class destroyer

Bernard Gribble was born in London in 1872. He and Nellie (short for Eleanor) moved to Poole some time between 1915 and 1924, living at 3 Springfield Crescent, Parkstone, where he had a studio in the back garden. He became an active member of the artistic community which flourished in Poole through the middle decades of the 20th century and was regarded as one of the foremost marine artists of his generation. He was among the few artists whose work hung in both Buckingham Palace and the White House (Franklin D Roosevelt bought ‘The Return of the Mayflower’ and ‘The Surrender of the German Fleet to the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow’ and installed the latter painting in the Oval Office when he became President in 1933). Other celebrity Gribble owners have included Queen Mary, the German Kaiser and the late Jackie Onassis, widow of President John F Kennedy. The Kaiser was so impressed by Gribble’s work that King George V summoned the artist to a royal residence to meet him.

The Lobster Pot, Mudeford

The Priory from Christchurch Harbour (at sunset?)

‘Tom’, aged about five

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