Paul Jacob Naftel was a self-taught artist, and he began exhibiting views of his native Guernsey in the early 1850s. He was made a full member of the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1859, after which time his work was increasingly recognised in London. Before dispatching finished watercolours for exhibition, he often previewed them in his purpose-built studio in St Peter Port.
In 1870 he moved to London and became very successful as a private teacher. A solo exhibition comprising 66 watercolours by Naftel was held at the Fine Art Society in 1889.
Naftel routinely searched out natural beauty spots during his painting trips to the Lake District, North Wales, Scotland and Ireland. A stream from the Dochart, Perthshire was one of the first watercolours to be purchased by the Art Gallery of NSW. It shows a rocky stream with light filtering through the canopy of lush vegetation, creating pockets of sunlight and shadow. It is one of a series of watercolours resulting from the artist’s visit to Perthshire in the Scottish Highlands in the early 1870s, of which several were exhibited at the Society of Painters in Water Colours between 1873 and 1875.
As the result of the work’s prolonged exposure to daylight, the landscape’s prevailing vivid green tones have faded and yellowed. Nevertheless, many of the original effects can still be appreciated due to the Naftel’s extensive use of bodycolour and opaque white, a technique he used consistently.
The watercolour prompted several complimentary reviews in the local press when it was put on display in Sydney in 1875. The Sydney Mail published the following commentary: ‘To any one who enjoys a piece of careful study in trees with plenty of graceful foliage and a bit of pretty rustic scenery, Paul Naftel’s Stream from the Dochart, Perthshire, will be a treat. It may be fancy, but it will appear to some that a picture of this class is most appreciated in the summer time – it is such a relief to the eye to turn from the blazing streets and the sun-charged air to ‘a quiet brook in the leafy month of June.’ And the picture will give this relief…’
Several years later, in 1881, the picture drew further praise from the same newspaper: ‘A stream from the Dochart... depicts one of those scenes of sylvan loveliness that seem almost idealistic to one who has few opportunities of penetrating beyond the dull bounds of city life. The limpid stream winds its silvery course beneath the shade of a rich and dense foliage, which forms such a retreat as one might well dream of for the calm exercise of thought, or rather for fanciful reverie… for it has that air of perfect solitude about it which would tempt us to indulge in the wildest caprices of our fancy, and imagine in its dim recesses the enchanted palaces, knights and gnomes, and all the motley concomitants which serve to make up that wonderful extravagance of the imagination, fairyland…’
Adapted from Victorian watercolours, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 2017