Artist of the month: Mark Fisher RA (1841-1923)
Mark Fisher’s vibrant personality seems to have been a match for the effervescent impressionist oil paintings that he produced during his career. While his views of the English countryside were thought to capture ‘the brilliance, the glitter and the freshness of the world’, friends such as George Clausen remarked on ‘the attractive personality of the man, full of light and shade of “accents” like his paintings’.
Mark Fisher was an American, born in Boston, who had studied in Paris during the early 1860s. He was an exact contemporary of the Impressionists and became a close friend of Alfred Sisley. He moved to England in 1872 and encountered George Clausen during the 1890s in the Essex village of Widdington. Fisher’s work probably had an impact on Clausen’s own practice, as the latter developed a brighter palette and a technique that was more akin to impressionism around this time. The two artists remained firm friends until Fisher’s death and Clausen wrote an appreciation for the catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition of Fisher’s work which was held at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1924.
Sir George Clausen RA, Portrait of Mark Fisher RA, 1900 Oil on canvas
In Clausen’s oil portrait of the artist, painted in 1900, the informal pose and ruddy complexion are heightened by the dabs of light in the eyes and on the nose which capture the apparent jocularity of Fisher’s character – the “accents” - that Clausen wrote of. The portrait displays the depth of Clausen’s personal knowledge of Fisher and the result gives the spectator the sense of witnessing a private joke shared between sitter and artist.
Francis Derwent Wood RA, Caricature of Mark Fisher RA, 30 December 1922. Pencil and wash on paper
Mark Fisher’s likeness was captured again about four months before his death by the sculptor, Francis Derwent Wood RA. This caricature of Fisher is one of a series of portraits of fellow Royal Academicians and other public figures executed by Derwent Wood during the late 1900s and early 1920s. The caricatures are believed to have been made during formal functions such as Royal Academy banquets and dinners at the Chelsea Arts Club. Fisher’s was probably made during a Royal Academy banquet, although the wash was almost certainly applied later. The sketch focuses on Fisher’s substantial moustache and exaggerates the pince nez he often wore. The unusual necktie may refer to his American origins.
Mark Fisher RA, An Orchard in the Spring, c. 1920. Oil on canvas.
This small oil canvas, Fisher’s Diploma Work, features a blossoming fruit tree in bright sunshine and was most likely painted in the open air. It is typical of the themes favoured by Fisher throughout his career, as George Moore, writing in 1898, suggested: ‘Mark Fisher’s painting is optimistic. His skies are blue, his sunlight dozes in the orchard, his chestnut trees are in bloom. The melodrama of nature never appears in his pictures; his lanes and fields reflect a gentle mind that has found happiness in observing the changes of the seasons. Happy Mark Fisher!’.
Mark Fisher's An Orchard in the Spring is in the exhibition, Opulence and Anxiety, Landscape Paintings from the Royal Academy of Arts, currently on show at Compton Verney. For further information please visit Compton Verney
Sir George Clausen’s Portrait of Mark Fisher RA, is currently on display in the exhibition At Home: Portraits of Artists from the Royal Academy Collection
, in the John Madejski Fine Rooms, Royal Academy of Arts.
Opening times of the John Madejski Fine Rooms
1pm-4.30pm Tuesday to Friday
10am-6pm Saturday and Sunday
Free guided tour 1pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 3pm Wednesday; 11.30am Saturday
Visit the Royal Academy Collection website www.racollection.org.uk and explore previous Artists of the Month.