Written by H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man was first published in 1897. It tells the story of Griffin, an unannounced stranger who mysteriously appears in the town of Iping, West Sussex. In that same year, the artist Sidney Goodwin lived a mere 33 miles from Iping and although the parallels in time and location are coincidental, he was also destined to become an invisible man.
The University of Sydney thesis from which this essay arose discussed the importance of status in the world of art and the extent to which recognition of artistic merit is contingent on an artist's reputation. The little-known watercolourist William Young was offered as a case study at the lower end of the status spectrum and on commencing my research, I found only one reference to him, in Campbell's Australian Watercolour Painters (1989): 'Young, William. Painted in watercolour. Active 1920s, Sydney and rural landscapes. Rep. H.C. [Hinton Collection, now New England Regional Art Museum], Wo. G. [Wollongong Art Gallery].'
Searches of public collections in Australia revealed that Young was also represented in the collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and formerly in the Manly Art Gallery & Museum.
Young was a traditional painter with almost all his work painted in the 1920s and 1930s. His rural paintings of toiling farmers ploughing their paddocks or drovers on horseback heading home at dusk, often dwarfed by gigantic eucalypts, embraced themes commonly depicted in Australian landscape painting during the early twentieth century. His other works frequently portrayed the urban architecture and streetscapes of Sydney.
'The war to end all wars' had left Australian society fractured and with little appetite for any immediate cultural change. Whether for this reason or otherwise, William Young disregarded the influence of modernism. His art depicted an older world almost always lacking the trappings of modern society.
Typically, genealogists search birth, death and marriage records but this approach is problematic when so little information is known about the subject. I inferred Young's year of birth was 1890 or earlier and his death occurred no earlier than 1942. As he painted in and around Sydney, it was also reasonable to assume that he was born and died in the city.
Obituaries and death notices, telephone, street and postal directories of pre-war Sydney and the Australian Electoral Roll were all consulted but none offered conclusive help, so I decided to focus on finding evidence of Young being a professional painter. Typically, career painters sold their art in galleries, studios and markets and sometimes income was supplemented by occupations such as teaching. If any of these scenarios applied, it was likely that Young's name would have appeared in Australian newspapers of the time. Surprisingly, this was not so. If Young taught art classes, he was not associated with the major Sydney art schools, nor did he exhibit with Australian art societies. My assumption that William Young was born and died in Sydney now appeared incorrect.
In a final attempt to solve the mystery, New South Wales Government Gazettes were examined in the hope that probate notices would provide a lead and I was rewarded with the discovery of an entry for the 'estate of SIDNEY GOODWIN (generally known as William Young), late of Woollahra, in the State of New South Wales, artist, deceased'.
The elusive William Young's real name was Sidney Goodwin, which explained why he was so difficult to trace. Born in Southampton, he was the son of William Sidney Goodwin and Elizabeth Young, feasibly explaining his chosen pseudonym. The art of Southampton's 'Sidney Goodwin' and that of Sydney's 'William Young' both showed a common fascination with watercolour, equine subjects and churches.
Paul Sidney Goodwin was born on 28th January 1875 in the family home situated at Cambridge Road, Southampton. He was known by his middle name, Sidney, and was the elder son and fourth child born to the artist William Sidney Goodwin and his wife Elizabeth. William was a soldier in the British Army who rose to the rank of Quartermaster-Sergeant in the Royal Engineers. He travelled extensively in Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East on survey duties before being stationed in Southampton where he married Elizabeth Young in 1865.
A change in William's career resulted in the family moving to London, and for the first half of the 1880s, Sidney attended the St Martin-in-the-fields School. They lived at 1 St Martins Place, adjacent to The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, which deepened the love of art shared by Sidney, his brother Charles and their father William.
After later returning to Southampton, William became a member of the Southampton Art Society (SAS) and served on its council from 1889 until his death in 1915. His son Sidney also joined and became a regular exhibitor who received critical acclaim from his very first exhibition when aged only 14, as reported by G. D. Leslie:
'Mr S. Goodwin... is a young artist whose work shows considerable promise in animal studies, the pictures numbered 145, 155, and 169 in the catalogue being very carefully drawn, giving hopes of future success.'
Sidney Goodwin returned to London in 1894 to study at the Croydon School of Art and in the same year commenced exhibiting with the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts (RHA) in Dublin and his association with both the SAS and RHA was to continue for many years. In 1896 he graduated with Advanced Stage First Class results in Architecture, Drawing in Light and Shade, Model Drawing, Perspective and Practical Plans, Freehand Drawing and Solid Geometry.
Sidney's art was encouraged by his father as well as his uncle, Albert Goodwin (1845–1932), a member of the Royal Watercolour Society and the most successful painter of this talented family. Albert studied with the Pre-Raphaelite painters Arthur Hughes and Ford Madox Brown and was influenced by J. M. W. Turner. Like Sidney, his talent was observed at a young age – he first exhibited at the Royal Academy when he was only 15.
A restlessness for travel compelled Sidney to explore the world and he visited Canada when aged only 15, accompanied by his uncle Albert. Describing Sidney's paintings, Bernard Lavell of the SAS commented:
'His works in pen and watercolour are said to exhibit a mastery of detail. This may have been due to a close regard for uncle Albert with whom he travelled to Canada in 1880 [recte 1890] and made studies of the forests, mountains, lakes, loggers, cowboys and covered wagons. In Canada, he painted a massive work, Cattle, Northwest Frontier, which visually describes a feeling of endless plains and mountains dwarfing both men and cattle.'
Sidney returned to Canada on multiple occasions, working as a farm labourer and painting when he could, his riding skills and love of horses securing him work on North American ranches.
Despite his regular travel, Sidney continued to exhibit with the RHA, SAS as well as the Bournemouth Art Society (BAS) and, although his stated address remained that of his father's home in Southampton, by 1911 he also resided for much of each year in Canada. While on one such visit, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, he was deported back to Britain due to government policy.
Sidney was a 39-year-old, unmarried man when the First World War commenced. At this time, the British armed forces initially consisted solely of volunteers and the commonly held belief was that the war would be over in months. He arrived at Liverpool on 15th December 1914 following his deportation and by September 1915 the Hampshire Advertiser, reporting on the SAS annual exhibition, inferred Sidney had volunteered:
'In On the Thames (32) Mr. Sidney Goodwin, who, we understand, has now laid aside the brush for the sword in the service of his country, we have a capital river scene in half a gale, a mellow colouring enwrapping the brown sails.'
No evidence, however, was unearthed to support the theory that Sidney joined any branch of the armed forces. After his father's death in 1915, Sidney ceased exhibiting with the SAS and in 1916, he was no longer listed as a council member, a position held since 1911. Throughout the war, he continued to make trips to Dublin where he stayed with his sister, Carmine, and left paintings for inclusion in RHA exhibitions.
Sidney's Australian paintings, signed as W. Young, date from 1919 – after the ending of the First World War. Australia was a land of new horizons and opportunities for those seeking to distance themselves from the exhausting European war but the reasons for his permanent emigration are unclear. Possibly he wanted to avoid comparisons with the art of his father and uncle. The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918–1919 may also have been a contributing factor or perhaps it was merely due to changing fashion in British art.
Queen Victoria had died in 1901 and during the subsequent reign of Edward VII, Victorian attitudes and culture became unfashionable. The architecture of the Victorian era came to be considered ugly and its art was viewed as embarrassingly sentimental.
While Modernism dominated British culture during the first half of the twentieth century, Sidney Goodwin steadfastly remained a Victorian artist, arriving in Australia as a man in his mid-40s, dedicated to a style of art that was increasingly viewed as old-fashioned in his country of birth.
His style easily merged with his new environment and effectively extended his painting career because Victorian sentimentality and Australian Federation landscape painting were readily compatible. Use of a pseudonym and his absolute break with the past ensured his work would be judged on its own merit.
Sidney Goodwin died at home in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra from the effects of a cerebral haemorrhage on 23rd September 1944, four months short of his 70th birthday. Unmarried and without children, his legacy was his art. His desire for anonymity resulted in him flying under the radar of the Australian art fraternity between the wars and today he is unknown and underappreciated. By viewing his body of work spanning seven decades, it is clear Young's most important cultural contribution was as a pictorial historian who adeptly captured everyday images of maritime, urban and rural life from many locations around the globe.
A final note on status is offered by Gladys and Kurt Lang, who wrote in the American Journal of Sociology (1988):
'Once an artist dies, his reputation comes to rest irrevocably in other hands... The remembrance of most, including some once well-recognized artists with an esoteric circle of admirers, is highly dependent on survivors with an emotional or financial stake in the perpetuation of their reputations. Especially those who made no effort to control their own fates need a helping hand. Marital and family status affect the probability that artists will leave behind survivors dedicated to preserving or promoting their reputations.'
This is particularly relevant for Goodwin. Status meant little to this invisible man who, at the age of 44, abandoned his home in the northern hemisphere to take up permanent residence in Australia. He chose to leave his artistic reputation behind, had no wife or children to keep his memory alive and avoided the schools, societies and galleries which may have promoted his work after death.
Stephen Robertson Marshall, writer and researcher
Jean Campbell, Australian Watercolour Painters: 1780 to the Present Day, Craftsman House, 1989
Bernard Lavell, 'Past Members: The Goodwin Family of Artists (Part 2)', Southampton Art Society Quarterly News & Events, 47, 2006
Margaret Plant, 'The Lost Art of Federation: Australia's Quest for Modernism', Art Bulletin of Victoria, 28, 2014
Barbara Ann Roberts, Whence They Came: Deportation from Canada 1900–1935, University of Ottawa Press, 1988