Richard Hayley Lever (1876-1958)
"Boats in a Harbor"
Watercolor, 18x22" Signed on lower right, c. 1913
Richard Hayley Lever
Hayley Lever’s exceptional career path took him from the shores of his native Australia to those of England, and then the United States. Described as an artist of “individuality,” he refused to ally himself with any particular style or movement; rather, guided by his belief that “art is the re-creation of mood in line, form and color,” he incorporated the precepts of Realism, Impressionism, Tonalism and Post-Impressionism into his art, applying those strategies in accordance with the emotion and aesthetic affect he wished to convey. In America, where he achieved his greatest acclaim, he was viewed as a proto-modernist, lauded by critics such as Edgar Holger Cahill, who declared:
In all his painting, whether it is of boats dancing on the waters of the Cornish coast, the ferry bridges and boats and streets of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the steaming asphalt highways of New York City, or the gently upheaving Catskills about Woodstock, it is always Lever who addresses us.
Hayley Lever was born on September 28, 1875 in Bowden Tannery, a suburb of Adelaide, Australia. The son of Albion W. Lever and his wife, Catherine (Hayley) Lever, he was christened Richard, but as a professional artist he used his second and last names only.Lever attended Adelaide’s Prince Alfred College from 1883 to 1891, during which time he received drawing lessons from the marine painter, James Ashton. As a boy, he loved to watch incoming clipper ships at the port of Adelaide, an experience that influenced his later penchant for maritime themes. Upon graduating from Prince Alfred College, he took classes with Ashton at the Norwood Art School and later attended Ashton’s Academy of Art in Adelaide. During these years, Lever spent his free time painting and sketching in the local countryside, exhibiting his work at the Adelaide Easel Club and at other local venues. His interest in painting outdoors was likely influenced, to some extent, by the achievements of artists such as Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and other painters of the so-called “Heidelberg School,” who introduced the tenets of Impressionism and pleinairism to Australian art during the late 1880s and early 1890s.A turning point in Hayley Lever’s artistic evolution occurred in the autumn of 1899, when he sailed to England for further study. He initially went to London, studying the art of both the past and present in the city’s galleries and museums. In early January of 1900, he settled in St. Ives, an ancient fishing port and art colony on England’s Cornish seacoast, where he proceeded to refine his skills as a painter under the tutelage of the British impressionists Julius Olsson and Algernon Talmage. Working out of a studio located on the top floor of a local art gallery, he painted views of the town and harbor, as well as scenes of Devon. In keeping with the tonal impressionist proclivities of St. Ives painters at that time, he became especially interested in conveying evening effects, going on to paint atmospheric moonlight scenes with soft brushwork and a low-keyed palette. At the same time, Lever was also looking beyond St. Ives for inspiration. He continued to make trips to London and his proximity to the Continent allowed him to travel to Paris, where he familiarized himself with styles such as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and exhibited his paintings at the Salon.