Samuel John 'Lamorna' BIRCH

Egremont 1869 - Lamorna 1955


Born in Cheshire, Samuel Birch was early in his life introduced to the pleasures of fly-fishing, which he soon combined with a talent for drawing by making landscape sketches. While working as an industrial designer he continued to draw and paint, soon developing a modest local reputation as a landscapist. In 1889 he visited the Cornish town of Newlyn, attracted by the work of the artists who had settled there, such as Stanhope Forbes and Frank Bramley. Apart from a brief period of study at the Atelier Colarossi in Paris in 1895, Birch was largely self-taught as an artist. On his return from Paris he settled in Cornwall and in 1902 moved to a studio near the coastal village of Lamorna, where he was to live and work for the rest of his career. The river valley and cove of Lamorna, not far from Penzance, was to become an area from which he derived lifelong inspiration. (Indeed, he soon added the name ‘Lamorna’ to his own, to distinguish himself from a local Newlyn painter named Lionel Birch.) His presence in Lamorna attracted other artists to the area, notably Laura and Harold Knight and Alfred Munnings. Since 1893 he had exhibited his work at the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and from 1906 onwards enjoyed a number of one-man exhibitions at the Fine Art Society in London. In 1926 he was elected as Associate of the Royal Academy, rising to full membership in 1934. Birch travelled widely in England, Scotland and throughout Europe, usually combining his favourite pastimes of fishing and painting, but was always drawn back to his studio in the Lamorna valley.

Birch was a superb watercolourist, and worked in the medium to the end of his life. In a review of an exhibition of watercolours by Birch held at the Fine Art Society in 1911, one critic noted that ‘This artist is becoming one of our best watercolourists with a quite personal method and habit of looking at things.’