Stobart at Noble

Artist John Stobart in his youth. PHOTO: Kensington-Stobart Gallery

Artist John Stobart in his youth. PHOTO: Kensington-Stobart Gallery

In October, 1976 while working for the National Maritime Historical Society, Bob Murphy, good friend of the museum, invited Noble to be in an exhibition at the National Boat Show.  Noble demurred.  “The work of these sailboat and historical buffs probably has its place, but I really hate like the devil to be confused with them,” he wrote.  “I draw only contemporary things—things I have seen and which I may have the background to interpret.  Remember I am the boy in the rowboat with two oars and one pencil.” 

Shortly thereafter, disappointed that he would not participate in the Boat Show, Stobart, who was part of it, wrote to Noble, “I’ve always thought a great deal of your work and would have been glad to have the honour of meeting you.  I gather you have some pretty severe criticism of the full-sail, clipper-ship types—in which case I guess I admire you for taking a stand.”  He invited him to put work in the gallery in Georgetown he was opening with his friend Malcolm Henderson—“an extremely attractive place on the old canal (Chesapeake & Ohio).”

Again Noble demurred.  “May I confess to you in all humility that exhibiting in a maritime gallery is a thing I have a slight fear of.  Believe it or not—I have only tried to do contemporary scenes that meant a great deal to me as best I could on a lithographic stone.  (Though in my case ‘contemporary’ goes back a bit, and I did know upward of 175 sailing vessels.)  But in the last few years yachtsmen, historians, semi-historians, and sail buffs have begun to plague me with questions…that sort of put a layer of dry dust over my endeavors.  Most of my time has been devoted to attempting a decent composition, not to record history....  The fancy Sealand calendar listed me as dead, and I have been taken for something out of the Civil War period.”

John Stobart,  San Pedro:     The Bark  Vidette  Towing into Port at Sunrise in 1890 , oil on canvas, 1983;  courtesy of Kensington Galleries.

John Stobart, San Pedro:The Bark Vidette Towing into Port at Sunrise in 1890, oil on canvas, 1983; courtesy of Kensington Galleries.

Back came a scrawled letter from Stobart in February.  He enclosed a catalog of Henderson’s etchings and a catalog of his own limited edition prints—“I tremendously admire the originality and power of your things which will prove, I know, to be a finer document than any others being done today.”  He asked Noble if he “could spare a copy or two of your lithographs.  We’d be honored to have them.”

On March 3 Noble responded, confessing, “It came as a deserved shock to me last week when for the first time I saw the truly magnificent quality of your work in South Street.”  He admired Henderson’s catalog—“Opening it up was like coming home to old friends,” and readily agreed to send “anything I have—for with such company…I would hang in a junk shop or a dark dripping cellar.”

The friendship that began then eventually engendered Stobart at Noble.  The renowned maritime painter has been a generous Trustee of the museum for 17 years.  In 2003 he staged a retrospective of his work here, and today his paintings and small pencil drawings grace our library.  Noble would have been enraptured.

-Erin Urban