A Still Life of Fish and Lobster
By Alexander Dalziel, Snr (1781-1832)
Oil on canvas, size 25” x 30”
Signed and dated 1827
Also inscribed verso, with ‘Newcastle’ added.
Alexander Dalziel was born in Wooler, Northumberland, a prosperous town about 47 miles North West from Newcastle on the road to Coldstream, with a population in 1821 of 1,830. When he was 23, Dalziel married Elizabeth Hills and they had a large family of eight boys and four girls. Dalziel was a gardener and seedsman, or horticulturalist, and also held a commission in the local Militia Regiment. In the course of his trade, Dalziel probably had reason to visit all the large houses in the district , where he may have had the opportunity to look at the collections of pictures. This would seem to be the only explanation for his ability to paint pictures such as this, which is directly inspired by the famous still lifes of the Seventeenth Century Dutch School. A contemporary author wrote , ‘considering he is altogether self taught, has lived in a part of the county remote from artists or their works, and under the pressure of a large family, his paintings of fish and some other objects of still life are really surprising productions.’
It seems that by 1823, when he was 42, the desire to become a professional artist became strong enough to persuade Dalziel to move to Newcastle and he appears in the Directory for 1828-29 as a ‘portrait and animal painter’, living at 21 Collingwood Street. The artistic gene was obviously very strong, for seven of his sons and one daughter pursued careers in the arts, together with four grandsons. Perhaps the most successful were George (1815-1902) and Edward (1817-1905), who founded a company publishing engravings of many of the most famous Victorian artist’s works .
This is indeed a “surprising production”; the fish include (clockwise from top left): Cod, Salmon, brown Trout and a Pike, whilst the lobster is straight out of the Dutch School. What is entirely English, however, is the inclusion of the condiments and knife and fork. Everything is beautifully observed and painted with great skill, from the reflections of the fish in the silver tankard or the window seen in the salt, to the colours of the wine and vinegar in their bottles.
This painting’s history is unknown but curiously, on the back of what is certainly the original frame, there is a label from a firm of Auctioneers, Gemmell, Tuckett and Co., who operated in Melbourne, Australia between about 1870 and 1910, so further research may reveal an interesting story.