The Staithes Group was a thriving group of artists working in the fishing village of Staithes around the turn of the 20th century. It comprised nearly 40 artists, some of whom lived permanently in the area, with many more visiting for several months a year. They lived in amongst the fishermen and women of Staithes, often lodging with them or living in their attics. This gave them first-hand experience of the harsh lives of the villagers; as a result, their paintings lend a unique insight into a long-forgotten lifestyle. Joseph Bagshawe, for instance, was a keen sailor and regularly went out to sea with the Staithes fishermen, an experience which gives his paintings a lifelike realism. However, their subject matter was not limited to the sea and the group produced an incredibly varied body of work, including landscapes, portraits, genre paintings and still lifes. Many of the members travelled abroad: Frederick William Jackson lived for a short while in Russia; Henry Silkstone Hopwood travelled to Australia, the Knights lived in the artists’ colony at Lamorna, Holland; and John Spence Ingall owned a house in Tangiers, to which he, Hopwood, Fred Jackson and Mark Senior would frequently holiday. Consequently, the group’s work is not limited to the Yorkshire Coast, and interesting comparisons can be drawn between their work around Staithes and their work overseas.
Painting in Staithes was pioneered by William Gilbert Foster, the ‘grandfather’ of the Staithes Group who bought a cottage in Runswick in 1890, and Thomas Barrett, Master of the Nottingham School of Art who is known to have visited Staithes as early of 1880. It was Barrett who encouraged the young Laura Knight to “Go to Staithes! There is nowhere quite like it for painting.” The arrival of the railway to Staithes in 1883 made the remote location more accessible, but it was not until 1901 when the official formation of the group was marked by its first exhibition at the Staithes Fishermen’s Institute. Between 1901 and 1904 the group exhibited annually, first in Staithes and later at the Anderson Gallery on Skinner Street, Whitby; however, they disbanded in 1907 after no venue large enough could be found to accommodate the now nearly 40-strong group. Some artists, including Joseph Terry, Fred Jackson and Rowland Hill, continued to live and work in the area; the Knights moved to Newlyn to work in the thriving school of Stanhope Forbes; Ernest Dade moved to London, where he encouraged Nelson Dawson to move north to Yorkshire; and Arthur Friedenson moved south where he spent the rest of his life in Dorset. Winston Churchill was known to have been a personal fan of Friedenson, remarking that ‘his skies are second only to Constable.’ Nowadays, paintings by members of The Staithes Group are held in private collections and galleries worldwide: works by Arthur Friedenson and Henry Hopwood are held by the Tate, purchased as part of the Chantrey Bequest; Leeds Art Gallery holds a large collection of works by Mark Senior and Fred Jackson (the former coming from the collection of wealthy Leeds industrialist and friend of Senior, Sam Wilson); and the Pannett Gallery in Whitby holds works by most of the artists (Thomas Barrett being a notable omission).