Return of a native
Gwen Yarker looks at the relationship between Dorchester natives Thomas Hardy and painter, John Everett
Published in November ’11
In 1933 John Everett sent his Hardy Country pictures to the Dorset County Museum, where some were on view by 1936. He wrote to the museum’s curator that it mattered to him that this body of work was kept in his ‘native place’. Working on the Hardy sketches was probably the last time Everett visited Dorset and he died in London in 1949. The importance of these pictures in the museum surely rests in the emotional significance of Dorset’s landscapes not only for its native writer Thomas Hardy, but also for its native artist John Everett. Considerable national press interest recently surrounded the rediscovery of a group of Hardy-inspired landscapes, which were painted by the Dorchester-born artist John Everett; the pictures came to light in the Dorset County Museum after his will revealed his bequest of ‘a set of oil sketches and drawings of The Hardy Country. As revealed in the recent BBC TV Hidden Paintings of the South programme, the ensuing search located them on a shelf in a store, carefully wrapped in brown paper, where they had lain for over thirty years. Two are currently on display in the museum’s Literary Gallery and all of Everett’s Hardy-related output can be viewed at the BBC’s website:
The pictures in the album draw attention to the intriguing connections between the Everett family and Thomas Hardy. John Everett was the son of the Reverend Henry Everett, vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Dorchester and his aristocratic but eccentric wife Augusta. Henry Everett first arrived in Dorchester in 1870 and married Augusta, also known as Aurelia, in London in 1875. Their only child Herbert Barnard John (known in childhood as Herbert) was born at the Rectory, Princes Street, Dorchester the following year. There the family remained until 1895, taking an active role in local life. This recently discovered photograph was taken on a day trip to Lulworth in 1888 includes Henry Everett and his 12-year old son Herbert. His mother Augusta opened the Soldiers’ Home, North Square, in 1885, in memory of her brother Major General Sir Herbert Stewart who was killed at Khartoum. Partly supported by subscriptions, it provided a coffee bar, library, recreation and smoking rooms, a bible class and mission room and was open to all soldiers. A public coffee bar was also available for market people and workers, complete with stables and accommodation for their horses. An advocate of abstinence, Augusta held well-attended temperance meetings in the mission rooms most nights. The Everetts were certainly high profile in the area and influential in their differing ways.
Thomas Hardy and John Everett were born only 3.3 miles apart and both grew to know Dorchester and its surrounding countryside intimately. By the mid 1880s Thomas and Emma Hardy were spending time both in London and Dorchester prior to their move to Max Gate in 1885. The Dorchester they knew was a small, contained town, including an active intellectual community and evidently the Hardys knew the Everetts well. By 1895 the Everett family left Dorchester for Swanage, where only a year later Henry died. Attended by about 2,000 people, his funeral in Dorchester reflected the level of his popularity. Soon after this John enrolled at the Slade School of Art in London, studying there for a year before signing on as a sailor in a deep-sea sailing ship going to Australia. On his return he held an art exhibition in London, to which his mother invited Thomas Hardy, who graciously declined. Not long afterwards John married his Irish cousin Katherine Herbert and their married life, a somewhat leisurely existence, was spent in Dorset. However their marriage had failed by 1917 and after the war John Everett was based in London and returned to a life of sailing, travelling and painting. He remained a prolific maritime painter for the rest of his life.
During this period Everett met the American writer Ernest Brennecke who on discovering a Dorchester link, revealed he had interviewed Thomas Hardy in Dorchester in 1923. Brennecke proposed that he and Everett should collaborate on a book Influence on the country of Hardy, with Brennecke writing the text and Everett producing aquatints of Dorset places mentioned in Hardy’s oeuvre. By May 1924 Everett was in Dorset working on the project, travelling around the county to produce small oil sketches on the spot. Everett probably selected Dorset scenes not only with a Hardy relevance, but which resonated with personal memories for him. He undoubtedly travelled to Dorset by train and in his unusual painting the approach to the London and South West Station at Dorchester is shown complete with milk churns on a horse drawn cart. Rapidly executed and somewhat incomplete, the smoke from the train rises up and echoes the billowing clouds.
In Dorset, Everett went first to the Weymouth area and then came inland as far as Dorchester and Stinsford. The church there played an influential part in Hardy’s life, despite his disagreements with the church, and by the time Everett visited, Hardy’s first wife Emma was buried in the churchyard there. Everett sets the church on the right as a strong bastion, at one with the landscape of trees and sky. Nature and the church are presented in harmony, with the gravestones reminding us of the brevity of life. After Stinsford Everett did not complete his sketching project but instead returned to London to begin the process of turning the oil sketches into prints.
The next time Everett visited Dorset during that same summer of 1924 he headed for the Puddletown Heath, bordering Hardy’s childhood home of Higher Bockhampton and famously the inspiration for Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native. One of his most naturalistic books, it explores how a character is bound to the natural landscape. Everett’s potent painting, though sketchily executed,
acknowledges nature’s power and the influence of the heath, through the capricious clouds dominating the scene which are reflected in the lowering shadows in the foreground. The heath itself becomes an almost mystical symbol for the fickleness of nature over the human race, and clearly Everett had the final appearance of the print in mind in mapping out the dominating forms of the heath.
As we don’t know whether Everett visited Hardy over the summer of 1924, its impossible to tell if the presence of Hardy in the Max Gate sketch is taken from life or added later. There was every reason for Everett to have called on this family friend, and indeed he must have gained permission to visit the garden to paint the house from life. Everett knew Max Gate anyway as he was living in Dorchester when Hardy built it. Everett returned to Dorset once more to fulfil his brief and finally back in London he worked the designs into drawings often altering details from the original oil, then sketching them in reverse to make the plates. Everett duly sent the finished artwork to Brennecke in America, but sadly their collaboration was never published.
Instead, Brennecke produced a biography – The Life of Thomas Hardy – published in 1925, and sought Everett’s agreement for six of his Dorset scenes to be included in it. Hardy was not amused by this unauthorized biography full of errors, and saw it as an act of treachery after giving Brennecke his hospitality, so he banned its publication in Britain. In 1925 an exhibition of Everett’s Hardy Country aquatints was held at the Camera Club near the Adelphi in London, where the fictional names of places were displayed next to the real ones. The Times acknowledged that Everett’s works ‘certainly reproduce the atmosphere of the Hardy novels’. Both Hardy and Everett were therefore duped by Brennecke and it was years before Everett’s artwork returned from America.
• Gwen Yarker has been awarded a Caird Fellowship at the National Maritime Museum to continue her extensive research into the paintings of John Everett, working towards a book and major exhibition.