Frank Gascoigne Heath


Frank Gascoigne Heath (1873-1936) Exh. RA 27

Public Collections include Bradford, Rochdale, Truro and Sydney.

Heath was born in Coulsdon in Surrey and was the youngest of twelve children. His father, a Building Surveyor in London, died when he was seven. He was educated locally and, as he suffered from chest problems, was sent off to sea to toughen him up, serving as an apprentice on a windjammer sailing to Australia. However, his true love was painting and he studied at South Kensington, Croydon and Westminster Art Schools and then abroad in Antwerp between 1895-7. Still keen to learn, he attended at Herkomer's School at Bushey from 1897-1900 before deciding, after a short painting trip to Brittany, to enrol at the Forbes School in Newlyn in 1901/2. On completing his studies, he settled in Cornwall and he was successful for the first time at the RA in 1904. His early work shows the clear influence of Forbes, with whom he became good friends. Being musical, he joined in all the entertainments put on by Forbes, the students and the likes of Phyllis Gotch and, in 1908, he met and fell in love with Jessica Doherty, who had also enrolled at the Forbes School. They were married in 1910 and lived initially in Polperro but, in 1912, they moved to Lamorna and built 'Menwinnion', which was to be their home for the rest of Frank's life. Friends included Alfred Munnings (q.v.) and his beautiful but tragic wife, Florence, and 'Seal' Weatherby (q.v.). The comfortable family life depicted in his 1914 RA exhibit, The Morning Room at Menwinnion, with Jessica playing the violin, was soon interrupted by the War and Frank was badly gassed soon after his arrival in France in 1915 and was invalided out of the Army with cerebral meningitis. His recovery was slow and he suffered from poor health and depression for the rest of his life.

Notwithstanding his mental and physical difficulties, Heath's work of the 1920s is bursting with colour and light. The Cornishman at this time referred to him as "the sunshine artist" and, in addition to his successes at the RA, he had six works hung at the Paris Salon between 1927-1930. Heath was not prolific but painted, mainly in oil, a wide range of subjects - figure paintings of children and adults, landscapes, marine scenes, interiors, flowers in the garden, animals - and he was equally assured in all. In 1935, Heath collapsed with breathing problems and died the following year. In his obituary, The Times commented, "He was essentially an open-air artist, direct in his methods with a good sense of values and a fine taste in colour."

(Abridged extract from David Tovey, Creating A Splash : The St Ives Society of Artists (1927-1952), Wilson Books, 2004)

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