ID TXA00100 / Tony Millatt

TitleFid Harnack - Audio Guide text 2008
AbstractFid Harnack was a well-known marine artist, who lived most of his life on Mersea. The display here features drawings and watercolours from Fid's sketch books - they were often done quickly while out on the water and were used as the basis for paintings later.
He was born in London in 1897, Frederick Bertrand Harnack, but known to east coasters and his friends as Fid. He was the son of a distinguished doctor [Ernest Henry Harnack] who was a pioneer in the medical use of X rays, sacrificing his hands doing experimental work. Though handicapped by artificial substitutes, his father still enjoyed sailing with his sons during holidays at the fishing and wildfowling village of West Mersea.
From an early age Fid was fond of drawing and painting but received no specialised training. When he was 17 the first world war commenced and Fid joined the army and served in France. He experienced the now unimaginable hell of trench warfare and fighting in the battles of the Somme in 1916 and at Arras and Passchendale in 1917, where he was wounded.
Even in these conditions he found time to draw and occasionally paint the nightmare landscapes of destruction and the mole-like life of the fighting soldiers. Like most of his generation who served there, he was determined to forget those four years which left a revulsion towards guns.
He studied art in the early 1920s and was soon providing black and white illustrations for several magazines and newspapers in the heyday of that medium.
In 1922 on retirement from the London Hospital, Fid's father moved with his family to Mersea Island and settled in Greenwood at the end of High Street North. Fid and his brother Edwin (Gus) were delighted to find themselves in a community composed mainly of fishermen, wild fowlers, boat builders, sailmakers and yachtsmen.
Amongst this clan at the time was Arthur Briscoe, then in his early fifties; a prime marine artist and illustrator, a fine seaman and owner of the powerful cutter yacht "Golden Vanity". Fid sailed with Briscoe a great deal and cruised with him as far as Falmouth, both painting and sketching all the way, with Briscoe influencing the younger man's work in some ways, particularly criticising Fid's habit of painting facing the light. However, results justified the unusual method and his consummate capturing of reflected light on the sea, the characteristic shining muds of low water and the broad, windy skyscapes of Essex makes his art unique. It has remained a fascination all his life.
Fid and his brother often hired the small centreboard dayboat "Kate" from Bill Wyatt, the West Mersea shipwright, and sailed her in company and sometimes competition with others owned by local families.
The tiller came as naturally to his hand as the pallet knife and the seaman's instinct reinforced his artistic expression. Appreciation of his painting grew and to keep close to his subject Fid and his brother acquired a transom-sterned ship's boat, which was converted to a small cruising sloop by Mr. Clark, the boatbuilder near the hard. It emerged as the "Ben Gunn"; shoal draught, able and a familiar sight in Essex and Suffolk waters under her tan sails, on her mooring amongst the smacks in Buzzun Creek, or at anchor in the Pyefleet.
During the late 1920s his work began to illustrate sailing magazines, particularly the Yachting Monthly, then resurgent under new editorship of Maurice Griffiths, an east coast devotee attracted by Fid's accurate capturing of the ways of sea and sail. He also did many drawings for "All about ships and shipping", a substantial book edited by his brother.
In 1930 Fid felt the urge to sail in square rig, as Briscoe had done a few years previously and shipped for a voyage in the Finnish barque "Alastor", sailing from the East India Dock to the Gulf of Bothnia in ballast, returning loaded with timber. Here was much new material for his brush and a fine oil of her deck is amongst his favourites. Fid was also fascinated by the shape and power of waves and took passage in a small cargo steamer to Bilbao at a time of year when a gale or two might be expected, but the sea was relatively calm. Disappointed, he returned in a 25,000 ton liner for the contrast.
The late 'twenties and 'thirties were, perhaps, the golden age of Fid Harnack's work. He sailed, painted and drew his way into the traditions of the east coast. When the second world war commenced in 1939 he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and, ironically, was made gunnery officer of the Motor Launch flotillas on the Clyde.
1946 found Lieutenant Harnack again a civilian, returned to a Mersea reviving the old ways but growing in population and in numbers of boats crowding the anchorage. Painting recommenced with vigour and the "Ben Gunn' again sailed the salty estuaries.
Fid's paintings are classics of the coast in all its moods and particularly capture the feeling of modest adventure which sailing men enjoy: dawn breaking red against the tumbling grey seas of the Wallet; sunshine and squalls dappling and darkening a Blackwater punctuated by dredging smacks; brown sailed barges punching to windward in a short sea; summer moonlight on the Pyefleet anchorage, riding lights twinkling and mist promising a fine day tomorrow; a fleet of racing dinghies striving round a windward mark in the sun glitter of high water; a full bowed smack on the hard with scrubbing men under her bilge; a seagoing yacht overtaken by a large cargo ship, the canvas vibrant with waves and the rumbling throb of a big diesel engine.
His paintings attract an international clientele and have been sold to many countries He has exhibited at the Royal Academy and at many of the major galleries.
Fid Harnack died in 1983.
AuthorTony Millatt
Published1 April 2008
SourceMersea Museum
IDTXA00100
Related Images:
 Fid Harnack - copy of photograph
 Used in The Salty Shore.  BOXD_014_001_001
ImageID:   BOXD_014_001_001
Title: Fid Harnack - copy of photograph
Used in The Salty Shore.
Source:John Leather Collection
 A Survivor. Painting by Fid Harnack, on display in Mersea Museum.
 BEATRICE - SVITHIOD - ROUTENBURN.
 Watercolour by Fid Harnack, RSMA.
 From the Martin Dence collection, kindly donated by Alan and Bry Mogridge October 2012.
 Four masted iron barque built 1881 by Robert Steele & Co., Greenock. Length 289 feet, beam 42.2 feet, draft 23.9 feet. Gross registered tonnage 2,094. Official Number 81812. Built for the Burn Line of Shankland & Co., Greenock.
 1884 - 1886 Captain W. Harnell
 1886 April Captain H. Holmyard
 1900 Captain G. Roberts
 c1901 Captain Dalrymple of Dumfries
 1905 Captain F.P. Horsefall
 1907 November 27. Sold to Rederi AB Navigator (John E. Olsen), Gothenburg, for £6,000 to be used as a sail training ship. Renamed SVITHIOD. Captain Anders Falberg.
 1911 November 11 - January 16 sailed from Port Talbot with a cargo to Pisagua in 88 days.
 1914 Sold to Svenska Australian Linjen (W.R. Lundgren), Gothenburg for SEK 127,000.
 1922 Sold to Rederi AB Pollux (Alex. Pedersen), Gothenburg, renamed BEATRICE. Captain Harald Bruce.
 1927 At Melbourne, having failed to get a charter for wheat, she loaded flour for Mauritius. Thence to the Seychelles and Assumption Island to load for Bluff (New Zealand). She sailed from Bluff to Melbourne in ballast in 35 days round the northern end of New Zealand having failed to beat through the Foveaux Strait and then the Cook Strait.
 1928 Race with HERZOGIN CECILIE from Melbourne to Port Lincoln and then Port Lincoln to Falmouth. HERZOGIN CECILIE took 96 days Port Lincoln to Falmouth. The winds did not favour BEATRICE and she took 114 days. [There is an excellent description of this race in 'Falmouth for Orders' by Alan Villiers.
 1930 made passge from Melbourne to London in 110 days with a cargo of wool.
 1932 Sold to A/S Stavangers Skibsophugnings Komp. for SEK 16,500 to be scrapped.
 Towed Gothenburg to Stavanger to be broken up.  FID_001
ImageID:   FID_001
Title: "A Survivor". Painting by Fid Harnack, on display in Mersea Museum.
BEATRICE - SVITHIOD - ROUTENBURN.
Watercolour by Fid Harnack, RSMA.
From the Martin Dence collection, kindly donated by Alan and Bry Mogridge October 2012.
Four masted iron barque built 1881 by Robert Steele & Co., Greenock. Length 289 feet, beam 42.2 feet, draft 23.9 feet. Gross registered tonnage 2,094. Official Number 81812. Built for the Burn Line of Shankland & Co., Greenock.
1884 - 1886 Captain W. Harnell
1886 April Captain H. Holmyard
1900 Captain G. Roberts
c1901 Captain Dalrymple of Dumfries
1905 Captain F.P. Horsefall
1907 November 27. Sold to Rederi AB Navigator (John E. Olsen), Gothenburg, for £6,000 to be used as a sail training ship. Renamed SVITHIOD. Captain Anders Falberg.
1911 November 11 - January 16 sailed from Port Talbot with a cargo to Pisagua in 88 days.
1914 Sold to Svenska Australian Linjen (W.R. Lundgren), Gothenburg for SEK 127,000.
1922 Sold to Rederi AB Pollux (Alex. Pedersen), Gothenburg, renamed BEATRICE. Captain Harald Bruce.
1927 At Melbourne, having failed to get a charter for wheat, she loaded flour for Mauritius. Thence to the Seychelles and Assumption Island to load for Bluff (New Zealand). She sailed from Bluff to Melbourne in ballast in 35 days round the northern end of New Zealand having failed to beat through the Foveaux Strait and then the Cook Strait.
1928 Race with HERZOGIN CECILIE from Melbourne to Port Lincoln and then Port Lincoln to Falmouth. HERZOGIN CECILIE took 96 days Port Lincoln to Falmouth. The winds did not favour BEATRICE and she took 114 days. [There is an excellent description of this race in 'Falmouth for Orders' by Alan Villiers.
1930 made passge from Melbourne to London in 110 days with a cargo of wool.
1932 Sold to A/S Stavangers Skibsophugnings Komp. for SEK 16,500 to be scrapped.
Towed Gothenburg to Stavanger to be broken up.
Source:Mersea Museum
 Fid Harnack.
 Used in Fid Harnack RSMA, published by Mersea Island Museum Trust and available in the Museum Shop.  FID_002_079
ImageID:   FID_002_079
Title: Fid Harnack.
Used in Fid Harnack RSMA, published by Mersea Island Museum Trust and available in the Museum Shop.
Source:Mersea Museum / Fid Harnack Collection
 The Old City. Watercolour by Fid Harnack, RSMA, donated to Mersea Museum October 2012 by Jeremy and Suki Cohen.  FID_003
ImageID:   FID_003
Title: The Old City. Watercolour by Fid Harnack, RSMA, donated to Mersea Museum October 2012 by Jeremy and Suki Cohen.
Source:Mersea Museum