Hayley Lever’s “Storm, St. Ives” Painting

Hayley Lever - Storm, St. Ives, 1910s

Hayley Lever (1875-1958), "Storm, St. Ives," 1910s, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches

Before immigrating to America, Hayley Lever lived and worked in St. Ives, on England’s Cornish seacoast.  His decision to make St. Ives his home is not surprising, for it was a quaint fishing village and holiday resort situated on a sloping hill leading to the sea. St. Ives was also one of England’s most popular artists’ colonies. To be sure, established during the early 1880s, the town attracted a coterie of British Impressionist and pleinairists that included such well known figures as Julius Olsson and Algernon Talmage, who were drawn to the clean beaches, busy harbor, and rugged moorland scenery, as well as to the simple way of life they encountered there. By the mid-1880s, Americans such as Edward Simmons and Howard Russell Butler were working in St. Ives, and a decade later, the colony was attracting the likes of Ernest Lawson, Gardner Symons, Walter Elmer Schofield, and Paul Dougherty, among other celebrated landscape and marine painters from the United States.

During his years in St. Ives-he was there from the late 1890s until 1912-Lever painted the town and its harbor throughout the seasons and under varying climatic conditions, working “when the tide was out and when it was in, at all hours; sunrise, midday, sunset and moonlight.”[1] He subsequently established a notable reputation in international art circles for his Cornish marines which, according to one critic, “stand out with heroic force and arrest the attention for their splendid colour, simple treatment and deft arrangement of masses.” [2]

These words would surely apply to Storm, St.Ives, in which Lever presents us with a view looking over the top of Smeaton’s Pier toward the town. The aerial perspective and sharp foreshortening truncates the view, emphasizing the zigzag shape of the pier’s Victoria extension. As the title of the work indicates, a storm is underway. Usually rising high from the water, the jetty is under siege, with the water rushing over the pier at its far end, so that the lighthouse at its extremity almost appears to be in the water. Figures on the pier stand in lines as if in amazement at the impact of the raised level of the water. The waves are full, pounding the far shore. By contrast, the houses, painted with angularized contours have a sturdy, solid, and staid appearance, as if to suggest that such storms had been present before, and the townsfolk are ready and used to them. Boats in the harbor are also docked quietly. Viewed from above, they seem to look up at us, as if to say that they, too, are waiting eagerly for the storm to subside so as to be back on the water.

Just as Lever’s Cornish pictures had been vital in establishing his reputation abroad, they performed a similar role in America; the artist exhibited them in many of his solo exhibitions and in the national annuals, winning over critics as well as prominent collectors, such as Duncan Phillips. Certainly Storm, St. Ives has the “vigor and sincerity” that, as perceived by one contemporary commentator, “make an irresistible appeal to the modern spirit.”[3] Striking in the directness and simplicity of its treatment, its exquisite coloration, and its fine sense of compositional design, this work captures the distinctive spirit of St. Ives and its harbor, and attests to Lever’s reputation as a keen observer of his surroundings.


[1] Helen Wright, “A Visit to Hayley Lever’s Studio,” International Studio 70 (May 1920): lxx.

[2] W[illiam] H. [de B.] N[elson], “A Painter of Harbours: Hayley Lever,” International Studio 52 (May 1914).

[3] Exhibition of Paintings by Mr. Hayley Lever, exh. cat. (Rochester, N.Y.: Memorial Art Gallery, 1914), p. [3].

©The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC. It may not be reproduced without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

See Spanierman Gallery’s Artists in Inventory for more paintings by Hayley Lever

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