A Forest Idyll by Norman Prescott-Davies RA


This is a good of example of what good training can do for a decent artist. Norman Prescott-Davies RA (British, 1862-1952) was a prolific painter of pretty pastoral scenes, often in imitation of his heroes John William Godward and Lawrence Alma-Tadema. He trained at the Royal College of Art, Guilds Art School, and Heatherly’s just as the fissure began forming between what we now consider illustration and fine art. Although Prescott-Davies regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy and other prominent shows, he never really broke through — and perhaps for good reason. In this work you can see the skills set that was expected of every traditionally-trained artist: the composition that frames the figures, taking you from the top left of the painting to the bottom right — what advertisers now call the “z pattern.” There is a slight overlap in the figures, with one being bright and the other in contrasting earth tones. The gestures of their extremities are beautifully thought out:  the carefully intertwined figures, the shepherd’s flute, and (my favorite) the man’s crossed legs resting in the grass. The drapery is complex enough to suggest the underlying structure of the figures, to create interesting textures and highlight; but, not too much to distract. And, the figures themselves are not portraits. They are idealized types that through their inward gazes allow us, the viewers, to impose our own narrative. It is a relatively minor work in size — 42 x 24 in.— and subject. But, it induces the kind of contemplative beauty that doesn’t happen by accident and that I find almost medicinal.