Richard Hayley Lever (1876 - 1958)

Richard Hayley Lever “Nantucket Fish Shack” (detail) 18 in. x 22 in.

Believing that “Art is the re-creation of mood in line, form and color,” Richard Hayley Lever developed a signature style of expression that spans three continents. Having been born near Adelaide, and having received his early art education in coastal Australia, an inheritance offered young Lever the opportunity to further his study in London & Paris. Mid-career was spent settled into the historic, fishing village of Saint Ives, in Cornwall, England. The latter half, and most notable years of his career produced paintings in New York; especially during increasingly frequent travels to paint the harbors, boats and buildings of the New England coast.

While geographically Lever drew from a tri-continental experience, his artistic vocabulary and technique developed by observing the classics, and resulted from his thoughtful consideration of the growing movements in the visual arts: away from sentimentality and moral allusion in favor of Impressionist, Post Impressionist and eventually, Expressionist and Surrealist works. But like Whistler, just 20 years his senior, Lever was more interested in evoking a mood than in accurately depicting the effects of light.

Perhaps the first significant development in the evolution of a signature style evolved during his years in Saint Ives, where, immersed in the company of like-minded artists, he became interested in the subdued tonal quality of harbor scenes; particularly as reflected against the water, and particularly at dusk. The challenges of depicting a subject with limited palette and shadowed light would lead to a minimalist inclination, and a stripping away of the unnecessary.

Hayley Lever’s career in Europe fared him well, with his 1904 debut at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and subsequent exhibitions at the St. Ives Art Club, the New English Art Club, the Royal West of England Academy, and the Society of Royal British Artists, as well as exhibitions in Paris, Nice, and Venice.

In 1908 Lever first saw the work of Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh.
The artist’s boldness in unleashed form and color, and the flat two-dimensional shapes and patterns inspired in Hayley Lever a new beginning. Two years later, newly progressive renderings of the boats and buildings of Saint Ives earned Lever an invitation from the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. American critics resoundingly approved, and by 1913 Lever had decided to re-locate his career to New York City, the new epi-center of the visual arts.

“…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.” Edgar Holger Cahill, critic and author of, “Hayley Lever, Indivitualist,” Shadowland 7 (November 1922)

Amid the critics’ accolades, Lever quickly earned a major reputation in national art circles, winning numerous awards and prizes, including, the National Academy of Design, the National Arts Club, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Solo shows included the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY, the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts and the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy.

During the next 15 years, CapeAnn, Rockport, Marblehead and Nantucket provided Lever the American equivalent of his beloved Saint Yves. He reached his creative zenith during this period, expressing the spirit of each place with “originality”, “vigor” and “zest for design.”

Richard Hayley Lever was a member of the most prestigious art organizations of his day, notably, the National Academy of Design, and the National Arts Club.

by Carolyn Walsh, reference: Spanierman Gallery, LLC; Duncan Philips, Phillips Memorial Gallery; Lolita Flockhart, Art and Artists of New Jersey: Cheryl Kempler, Delaware Museum of Art

Recent Examples at Auction