Julius Olsson, R.A., R.B.A., P.R.O.I., R.W.A., N.E.A.C. (1864-1942)
The Longships Light
signed ‘Julius Olsson’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
50 1/4 x 69 1/4 in. (127.7 x 175.9 cm.)
with frame 59 3/4 x 78 1/4 in. (151.8 x 198.8 cm.)
with Arthur Tooth & Sons, New Bond St., London.
London, Royal Academy, 1917, no.126.
Bradford City Art Gallery, 1918.
Royal Academy Illustrated, 1917, p. 48.
Having handled and sold more paintings by Julius Olsson than most, The Longships Light - which was painted in Cornwall and exhibited at the Royal Academy - is the finest example of the artist’s work that I have ever seen on the market.
One of Olsson’s largest canvases, and titled after the islets and lighthouse off Land’s End, the painting’s formidable scale reflects the immensity and power of its subject matter: the ocean. The breaking waves roll towards both artist and viewer, before dissipating upon the rocks and into a pool below, while the moonlight catches the spray, refracting into a burst of pinks, silvers and blues. In the distance, the lighthouse flashes red, aesthetically disrupting the composition. The picture is nothing short of a phantasmagorical masterpiece, dreamlike and ethereal.
The date of 1917 adds particular poignance to the painting - the tide continues and the waves roll, impartial to the conflict across the channel. The ocean as an existential metaphor for the precarious existence of humankind has been used by artists from Turner to Aivazosky, and is something Olsson would have been acutely aware of when contemplating this scene.
Turner himself painted Longship’s Lighthouse, Land's End (Tate Britain) in c.1834, and in his seminal Modern Painters (1843), John Ruskin described the seas around Land’s End as ‘one dizzy whirl.....bounding, and crashing, and coiling in an anarchy of enormous power.’