Stanley Royle artist
Stanley Royle artist

Biography of Stanley Royle

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Stanley Royle 1932

Stanley Royle, my grandfather, was a post impressionist landscape painter of the 20th century who was born in 1888 at Stalybridge, Lancashire, England. His family moved to Ecclesfield, a rural outlying district of Sheffield in South Yorkshire in 1893, where his father became the stationmaster at the nearby railway station.

Stanley aged 16

His elder cousin, Herbert Royle (1870 – 1958) already a highly successful and recognised landscape painter, was the strongest influence on the young Stanley, and it was he who encouraged him to pursue art as a career. He began studying in 1904 at the Sheffield Technical School of Art and in 1908 succeeded in gaining a scholarship which enabled him to continue his studies at the art school.

He always had a great admiration for his Painting Master, Oliver Senior who had studied at the Royal College of Art and was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy. Grandfather was a ‘high flying’ student: he won scholarships at the art school which enabled him to study in London during the summer vacations.

Stanley (centre) at art college

On completion of his studies in 1910 his first employment was as an illustrator and designer for local newspapers. In 1911 he began exhibiting professionally in the UK and in 1912 the family moved to a house named ‘Ain Garth’ in Shiregreen, another rural suburb of Sheffield. His first great success was to have three paintings accepted by the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1913. He continued exhibiting at the RA each year until 1916, and then intermittently on seven further occasions until 1950.

Love and Marriage

He was a keen ice skater; on one visit to the ice rink he met a very attractive young lady by the name of Lily Goulding. Subsequently, they met several times at the ice rink and he would walk her home, but she lived in what was then viewed as being a ‘poor’ district and would never allow him to come inside the Goulding’s house and meet with her family. One night, after escorting her home, he waited a few minutes after she had gone inside and then went back and knocked on the door. When she answered it he said ‘You’ll have to let me come in now, Lily’. That was the beginning of their romance.

‘Spring Morning Amongst the Bluebells’

It was in this year, 1913, that he painted the evocative composition ‘Spring Morning Amongst the Bluebells’ depicting Lily standing amongst the birch trees and bluebells of Wooley Wood in Shiregreen. He painted other versions of this subject, in which there is no figure, but this one, which was accepted by the Royal Academy that same year, was and remains a captivating study.

Stanley and Lily c. 1914

They married in 1914 and initially lived with his parents at Ain Garth. Their daughter Jean, my mother, was born in 1915 at Ridgeway, near Sheffield. She inherited this painting and it hung on the wall of her home until 1992 when, reluctantly, she finally sold it at Christies, South Kensington. It is now in a private collection in the USA.

Grandfather suffered from Bright’s Disease and this prevented him from joining the forces in the First World War. In the same year that his daughter was born, his oil painting ‘Ploughing (A Fresh Morning: View of Mosborough from Renishaw)’ was his first painting accepted by the Royal Academy.

A Rural Life and View

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Jean and Lily 1919

In 1916 the family moved to Priest Hill Farm on Quiet Lane in the beautiful Mayfields Valley, outside Sheffield on the edge of the Derbyshire moors. They were poor and could only afford to rent a small cottage attached to the farmhouse. He was successful in having two major works accepted by the Royal Academy that year and his election to associate member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1918 indicated his increasing importance as a talented British landscape painter.

By 1920 he had been elected a full member of the RSBA and was teaching part time at the Sheffield School of Art. The family spent their summer holiday at Ravenglass in Cumbria which Jean, then five years old, always remembered with great delight since, not only was it a very beautiful place, but there were also other children there to play with!

He was 7 years married to my grandmother when, in 1921 he was inspired to paint ‘Morning on the Derbyshire Moors’. In this oil painting he captures the remoteness of the moorland landscape by using the figure of his wife in the foreground to contrast against the wild and open spaces of the moors. His technique is impressionistic with almost a pointillist effect combined with broad sweeps of colour. The dress and bonnet grandmother is wearing were made for her by her sister, my great-aunt Frances who was an excellent seamstress.

‘Morning on the Derbyshire Moors’

Although grandfather often used female figures within his compositions these were usually secondary to the landscape, which formed his chief interest. However, the three paintings ‘Spring Morning Amongst the Bluebells’ 1913, ‘The Lilac Sun Bonnet’ 1921, and ‘The Goose Girl’ 1922 show single female figures prominently displayed in the foreground, whilst in later works figures give way in importance to the landscape.

First Major Commission

‘Sheffield from Wincobank Wood’ 1924

In 1922 he received a prestigious commission from Frederick Horner, a local art dealer, to paint four large views in oils of Sheffield. This quartet of paintings forms a significant part of the collection of grandfather’s work in the Sheffield Galleries and Museums. In 2005 one of this group, ‘Sheffield from Wincobank Wood’ 1923, was included in the Tate Modern’s exhibition ‘A Picture of Britain’.

Living in an outlying rural district with limited public transport did not prevent grandfather from undertaking large, ambitious canvasses of significant landscapes, as shown by his study ‘From Yorkshire Hills to Derbyshire Hills’ 1919, (Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust) which depicts the valley of Burbage Brook.

‘ Yorkshire Hills to Derbyshire Hills’

Sometimes he would walk but often he would cycle to his chosen viewpoint, with all his painting equipment and his canvas carefully strapped to the side of his bike! It was whilst painting one of his Burbage Brook studies that he hid the canvas in a cave in Burbage rocks, in order not to damage the wet paint by transporting it home. In those days wandering sheep would be the worst it could encounter!

‘The Goose Girl’ 1922

Lily  suffered from migraine type headaches which were at times very debilitating, consequently the model for the figure in the ‘The Goose Girl’ is an amalgamation of the two sisters,  with my great-aunt Frances Goulding, grandfather’s sister-in-law, standing in for Lily when when was incapacitated.  The setting is almost certainly Whitely Woods as the family lived close by. ‘The Goose Girl’ was painted in the early 1920’s and was exhibited in both Glasgow and Liverpool in 1924. This work, now owned by the National Gallery of Ireland, had been attributed to the artist William Leech, until my mother sold the painting ‘Spring Morning Amongst the Bluebells’ in 1992. Not until then did the ‘experts’ recognise that the same artist had produced both paintings!

Success and a new home

In 1925, after resigning from the RSBA, grandfather was elected an associate member of The Royal West of England Academy. His success as a painter made it possible for the family to move to a newly built house at Park Head Crescent in Ecclesall. As the house was in the process of being built when he took out the mortgage, the architect was instructed to extend one of the bedrooms by reducing the size of Jean’s bedroom. This provided him with a reasonable sized studio and for the first time in her married life my grandmother had a properly equipped kitchen! By 1930 he was the co-founder of the Sheffield Print Club.

Stanley Royle teaching c. 1930

1930 and 1931 were particularly hard financially, and in order to make ends meet he took a post as illustrator with the Sheffield Independent Newspaper. For several years he had privately taught a pupil who was the Principal of the Nova Scotia College of Art in Canada; she visited Britain each summer to receive painting tuition from grandfather. Despite resisting her attempts to procure him as a lecturer in painting there, he finally succumbed and the whole family emigrated in December 1931. The depression had made it impossible for him to make a living in Britain. My mother, then almost 17 years old, had already begun studying fine art at Sheffield Art College, and was in her second year there, when her studies were disrupted by the emigration.

The Depression and Canada


‘Morning Light, Moraine Lake’ 1939

Initially grandfather taught at the Nova Scotia School of Art. However, his relationship with the Principal was never easy and in 1934 he was dismissed. The family returned to Britain and Sheffield in the summer of that year but in 1935 he was offered a professorial post at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. He and grandmother returned to Canada and remained there until 1945, but my mother stayed in Britain to continue her art training in London.

During his time in Canada he produced dynamic studies in oils of the Rocky Mountains and dramatic seascapes and coastal scenes which, with his snow scenes in Britain, form some of his finest works. He had been elected an associate member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Fine Arts in 1936 and in 1941 he was elected a full member. Throughout his Canadian years he returned frequently to Europe during the long summer vacations where he conducted painting tutorials on the Isle of Sark, in Dorset and Derbyshire.

Love of Snow

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‘Winter, Corfe Castle Village’ 1937

Snow scenes were amongst his favourite subjects because of the light reflected off the snow and the subtleties of colour thus created. He considered the winter landscape to have more colour than at other times of the year. My mother wrote the following letter in response to a collector requesting verification of a painting:

Your letter of enquiry, regarding the oil painting by Stanley Royle which you own, has been passed on to me (his daughter) for verification. I feel certain, from the photograph you enclosed, that this is definitely a genuine Stanley Royle work. He painted many snow-scenes on the spot, wearing knee-breeches, and knee length lace-up boots (warmer than Wellingtons!). If there was a house, or houses, nearby he would ask the occupants if they would be kind enough to let him leave his picture with them until he came back next day to continue the work (he chose, if possible, a house-hold without children – as being a safer haven for his painting).

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‘Gateford Farm in Winter’ 1950

Incidentally, he never knew, until I was grown-up, that as a child – when I had to pass through his studio from my bedroom each morning to get downstairs, I would cast a critical eye over the current work in progress (with his palette and brushes beside it, the paint still wet) and couldn’t resist the urge to add a few deft touches to the work. He never knew this until I told him in recent years – by which time I was too old to be slapped (and he laughed heartily about it, bless him).’

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‘Across Fields Towards Letwell’ 1947

Grandfather became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Fine Arts in 1942 and in 1945 he and grandmother returned to the UK where he sojourned in Suffolk before settling in north Nottinghamshire. Throughout his career, many of his paintings emphasised the sky by making use of a low horizon, so Suffolk, and later Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire provided ideal subjects.

Ongoing success

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‘The Fishing Village of St. Abb’s’ 1957

Throughout the remainder of that decade he continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy and was elected president of the Sheffield Society of Artists in 1950. The Paris Salon awarded himthe Silver Medal in 1951 and the Gold Medal in 1955. During the 1950’s he visited Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany as he found the lighting effects of maritime subjects particularly inspiring. Brittany was his last overseas painting expedition. Early in1961 he was diagnosed with liver cancer and he died in March of that year. A memorial service was held at Worksop Priory, Nottinghamshire and his grave is in one of the town’s cemeteries.


The Grandfather Remembered

Stanley Royle c. 1950

As children we remember him as a man of few words but a great sense of humour. He could perfectly imitate the call of a cuckoo! Whenever we heard it we were amazed! On his return to Britain he acquired a motorbike and had removable carriers built for the pillion seat to accommodate his canvasses and paint box. Our special treat when he visited was to have a ride on the back of his bike.

The Father remembered

Stanley Royle had a full and academic knowledge of every aspect of painting and it is this, combined with his extraordinary ability to capture the atmospheric quality of natural lighting on the landscape that makes his paintings so satisfying to the viewer. My mother often described how he thought nothing of pitching his easel in the middle of a stream and standing knee deep in water, whatever the weather, if that gave him the view he wanted to capture. He did not like the harsh lighting effects of the midday sun as it flattened the subject, but preferred early morning or mid to late afternoon and evening light; and so he developed a habit of having a nap in the middle of the day.

‘Old Bridge, Baslow’ 1928

He made several oil studies of Baslow Bridge in Derbyshire and mother often related the story of how, when she was a young girl, she and grandmother travelled from their home near Ringinglowe to Baslow one summer’s day, partly by bus and partly walking, to meet up with him. They arrived around midday and although they could see his easel and canvas all set up on the riverbank, the man himself was nowhere to be seen. A search discovered him stretched out and lying fast asleep, on a narrow stone shelf underneath one of the arches of the bridge, and within inches of the water! He was waiting for the light to change.


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‘Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia’ 1940

In conjunction with the 1988 centenary travelling exhibition held in Canada, Patrick Condon Laurette, the Curator of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, published a book in 1989 entitled ‘Stanley Royle (1888-1961)’ – ISBN: 0-88871-108-5.

Jean Royle’s Bequest

In 1995 my mother, Jean Royle, bequeathed her collection of Stanley Royle paintings, sketchbooks and drawings to the Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust in order that future generations would have the opportunity of viewing, in one venue, the artist’s work. This is of particular value since so many of his paintings are privately owned. He was prolific in his output and his work continues to be increasingly collectable.