Above Branscombe Bay
John White, RI ROI RBA (1851 – 1933)
11” x 18” (27.9 cm x 45.7 cm)
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the villagers of Branscombe depended on donkeys for their livelihood. The steep cliffs above the beach were south-facing and virtually frost-free. This enabled farmers to dig out and cultivate small, terraced plots, known locally as plats, where they could grow early crops of flowers, fruit and vegetables, including Branscombe potatoes. The soil was fertilised with seaweed. The nimble-footed donkeys transported this from the beach and were also relied on to carry the produce back to the village. Today, the plats have become mostly overgrown, and John White’s painting, showing the donkeys at rest on the coastal headland above Branscombe Bay, affords a unique glimpse into East Devon’s past.
Born in Edinburgh, John White spent most of his childhood in Australia after his family emigrated there in 1856. He was educated in Melbourne, but returned to Britain and studied art and design at The Royal Scottish Academy Schools from 1871. White lived at Shere in Surrey and in London before moving to Devon, where he lived at Axminster, Exeter, Branscombe and Beer. John White painted in both oils and watercolours and often featured his wife and children as models in his pictures. He specialised in rustic genre subjects, coastal views, landscapes and village scenes, particularly in East Devon, North Devon, Dorset and Dartmoor. He exhibited 40 times at The Royal Academy and was a member of, and a regular exhibitor at, The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, The Royal Institute of Oil Painters and The Royal Society of British Artists.