After checking the credentials of painter and potter Harry Phelan Gibb one wonders why he hasn't become a household name along with his contemporaries, the likes of Matisse, Gris and Picasso.
Harry Phelan (pronounced Faylan) Gibb was born in Alnwick, Northumberland in 1870. Influenced by the works of Cezanne, he set up his studio in Paris 'bang on period' in that time of accelerated artistic expression between the turn of the century and the advent of the First World War. In this enlightened time the avant-garde art scene in Paris flourished and was grasped wholly by Gibb during the 25 or so years he was there – impressionism, neo-impressionism, post-impressionism, fauvism and cubism, all artistic styles explored, developed, mastered and personalised by the artist, who rubbed shoulders with many of the greats including Picasso, Gris and Matisse with whom he shared a studio in 1906. Significantly Gibb also associated closely with the proponent of modernism, the American Gertrude Stein. As well as being an avid art collector, Stein was a novelist, poet and playwright. After moving to Paris in 1903, Stein hosted a salon where leading members of avant-garde literature and art would regularly meet – Picasso and Matisse to name but two.
Not much detail is known about Gibb’s personal life, it's hinted that he suffered with depression, and perhaps this set him back to some extent but may also have been part of the driving force behind his unique take on the current artistic breakthroughs in the Paris School of the period.
The artist was born Henry William Gibb, the son of the artist Thomas Henry Gibb. Gibbs’ father, also born in Alnwick, is listed in an 1881 census as an Artist and Bailiff of the Alnwick County Council. Gibbs sister Sadie Gibb was also an accomplished artist.
The artist exhibited as H W Gibb until 1895 after which he started using Phelan after the initials H W - Phelan being the maiden name of his grandmother – and later referring to himself as Henry Phelan Gibb, Harry Phelan Gibb or simply as Phelan Gibb. As well as studying in Paris, Gibb also studied at Newcastle, Edinburgh, Antwerp and Munich.
In 1909 Gibb became a Sociétaire at the acclaimed Salon D'Automne having already exhibited there regularly and in 1911 he held his first one-man exhibition in London at the popular Baillie Gallery in Bruton Street, which had exhibited works by artists such as John Lavery and Anne Estelle Rice. Gibb also exhibited in New York, at the AAA as well as Redfern Gallery, Lucy Wertheim’s gallery, RHA, Alpine gallery and RSA. Significantly in 1913 Gibbs’ works were shown in New York at the ‘Armory Show’ (also known as the ‘International Exhibition of Modern Art’) organised by the American Association of Painters and Sculptors. This was the first major exhibition of modern art in America and impacted profoundly on the country’s realists by introducing European avant-garde works in fauvist, futurist and cubist styles.
On 30th September 2015 Adams Fine Art Auctioneers held a sale entitled ‘Adams Important Irish Art’ including a work by Phelan Gibb (‘Girl with Flowers’ Oil, gouache and pencil on paper 1946).
Gibb became a fringe member of the White Stag group of artists, which was centred around Basil Rakoczi and co-founder Kenneth Hall. Although founded in London in 1935, the group relocated to Ireland four years later attracting Irish artists including Thurloe Conolly, Stephen Gilbert, Paul Egestorff and Patrick Scott.
Astute art dealer Duncan Campbell (Duncan Campbell Fine Art, Thackeray Street, Kensington, London) in the 1980s handled Gibbs work as part of a push to promote White Stag artists such as Kenneth Hall and Basil Rakoczi, whose work along with Gibbs had been shown in London in the 1930s by Lucy Wertheim. Campbell had handled numerous works from the Wertheim estate that he continued to sell, helping to revive the reputation of Gibb and others such as David Burton, Humphrey Slater and David Gommon.
Harry Phelan Gibb died in 1948 of a heart attack in Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire. In 1961 the Alwin Gallery posthumously held a solo exhibition but sadly only one picture sold. On 30th September 2015 Adams Fine Art Auctioneers held a sale entitled ‘Adams Important Irish Art’ including a work by Phelan Gibb (‘Girl with Flowers’ Oil, gouache and pencil on paper 1946). Examples of Phelan Gibbs works are held by Tate Gallery ('Belgrave Square and Wilton Crescent' - 1928) and Victoria & Albert Museum ('Horses' - drawing).