Stanley Royle artist
Stanley Royle artist

Entitled ‘A Relic of the Past’ the painting below was auctioned on February 15th 2015…..     


dobbin-hill_mctear-auction 2015

One of Stanley Royle’s favourite subjects was this farm at Dobbin Hill in Sheffield, situated in the locality of where he was living at the time, in 1922. Royle aficionados’ will be interested to learn that the painting fetched £17000 at the auction at McTear’s in Glasgow on February 15th 2015.



Stanley Royle’s granddaughter, Lucy Copleston, gives a personal insight into a very special painting which was recently exhibited at the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield………

Whiteley Woods in Snow, 1920In 1919 Stanley Royle, my grandfather, with his wife and young daughter, had moved to live in a cottage at Priest Hill Farm in the Mayfield Valley near Sheffield. Their cottage, which is no longer in existence, would have been just a 10 minute walk from Carr Bridge which is on the lane called Wood Cliffe on the edge of Whiteley Woods.

In this exhibition there is a painting entitled ‘Whitely Woods in Snow’. It is a 12” X 16” oil sketch painted around 1920 depicting snowy woods by a stream in the fading light of a winter afternoon, with a subtly suggested bridge just visible beyond the trees. This painting is a good example of how Stanley Royle approached his subject: there is an immediacy and freshness in the technique. Nothing is laboured. He was intent on catching the mysterious quality of the transient winter twilight and to do that he had to work quickly. It all feels so cold and yet – enticing. Most people would be by their firesides on a day and a time like this. But my grandfather particularly liked to paint snow scenes.

Cold weather did not deter him. My Mother described how he kitted himself out with all the appropriate gear for cold weather work, including “knee breeches and knee length lace up boots(warmer than wellingtons!)” and thought nothing of planting his feet in the middle of an icy cold stream to get the right view of his subject. I wonder if he did that when he painted this sketch?

On Ringinglow Moors, 1920-smallMany of the known works he produced at this time were studies of the vast open moorland with expansive skies – which give a sense of the impersonal spaciousness of the moors. In contrast, ‘Whiteley Woods in Snow’ is intimate and enclosed; it draws the viewer in and because of the eye level, we see through the arch of the bridge – and beyond: we enter into its world of glimmering reflections and mysterious trees just catching the light of late afternoon sun. It is a magical world and one where a child would enjoy playing. Was his young daughter there with him as he painted this?

There is a curious history to ‘Whiteley Woods in Snow’. It only hangs in this exhibition through an act of fate. But it is not the first time this oil sketch has been exhibited at the Graves Gallery. Almost 52 years ago, for one brief month, it hung in this same gallery as part of the Memorial exhibition held in the summer of 1962 a year after Stanley Royle’s death.

My Mother had inherited the contents of her Father’s studio which included this painting, and when the Graves Gallery held the memorial exhibition for Stanley Royle my Mother loaned several of these paintings. As well as larger canvasses there were many and various 16” X 12” oil sketches, and I have a memory of her debating which ones to supply. In the end she sent several, ‘Whiteley Woods in Snow’ being one of them. It was to be the last time she ever saw this painting.

Although not intended as a selling exhibition, my Mother wrote to the Graves at the time:

‘By the way, I don’t know whether you are considering the possibility of selling anything during the exhibition, but I should certainly like to sell some, as I can’t keep them all indefinitely, and should be glad to know of any offers you may have.’

As it was, a total of 6 paintings were sold by arrangement with the Gallery after the exhibition ended and a gentleman by the name of C.S. Stacey showed a particular interest in buying ‘Whiteley Woods in Snow’.

Of all the paintings submitted this was the one my Mother least wanted to part with. I remember her perturbation when she received a letter from the Graves listing the paintings on which offers had been made, and seeing ‘Whiteley Woods’ on the list. But it wasn’t only that we didn’t have space to store them, we were also hard up and needed the money!

Consider all the moving from home to home and the displacement Stanley Royle and his family encountered over the years leading up to 1961, including emigration to Canada in 1931 and returning to Britain 14 years later. Throughout all that time and all those changes of address this little oil sketch had remained in his keeping, so we might assume that he was fond of it, so much so that it remained with him until he died! And then, just for a brief time, it came back to my Mother who would have known it as a child, and known well the place it depicted and very possibly, by some of the accounts my Mother gave, even witnessed her father actually at work painting it.

But now it was sold – to a stranger – for the sum of 12 guineas and for the next half century this painting remained in the keeping of Mr. Christopher Stacey, a journalist, who I have since learnt lived in Sheffield and worked on the Sheffield Star for over three decades.

In 2002 my Mother died 40 years after reluctantly parting with ‘Whiteley Woods in Snow’ – and then – eventually and inevitably Mr. Stacey also died, in 2011 – well into his nineties. Once again the painting was inherited – but this time by a person for whom it had neither appeal nor interest. He is, however someone for whose initiative I will always be extremely grateful. It is unlikely I would ever have had contact with him were it not for the wonderful facility of the internet, for in 2007, the official website dedicated to my grandfather’s works was launched by the Artist’s Estate for Stanley Royle and as a result of this I now receive all kinds of email enquiries and interesting information. And so it was that in the spring of 2012 I received an email from a Mr. Bernard Oxborrow.Label on reverse of Whiteley Woods in Snow

He explained that a cousin had recently died and bequeathed to him a painting. He emailed images to me including one of the reverse showing an old label.

The painting was neither signed nor dated but the label clearly identified it as a Stanley Royle which had been loaned by a Mrs. J Copleston to the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield for an exhibition in the summer of 1962. You can guess the title!

It was then that I started to piece together its history. Gradually I recalled all that had taken place in 1962, and my Mother’s reluctance to part with it. At that time I had just turned 16 and was about to embark on fulltime training at the local art college. Money, as always was in short supply and furthering a child’s education is costly. These considerations would have been strong influencing factors on her decision to sell.

I remember looking at the image on my screen that had been emailed to me and thinking ‘I rather like this painting’.

Even just on a screen the painting drew me in to that other world of ‘rocks and stones and trees’ where the fading light glimmers on mossy tree trunks and warms the stonework on the underside of the bridge. Shadows, reflections and snow all combine to create a rich patterning. It is an enchanted world!

Now I know that the subject is Carr Bridge in Whitely Woods, because in 2013 I did a round trip to visit every bridge in that locality in order to locate and identify the venue.

The new owner intended selling and had contacted me initially for advice on its market value. Paintings were not his thing – he said. After a series of emails and some research on his part he very decently set the price at the lowest it would have sold at if auctioned which made it possible for me to become the new owner.

And so it was, through this curious experience I came to realise that a wheel, which unbeknown to me had been slowly turning, had finally come full circle, and ‘Whiteley Woods in Snow’ had come home.


© Lucy Copleston 2014