Painting (sometimes called "Narrowboat Painting") is the most well-known folk art of England. It is
associated with the narrowboats that plied England's waterways
in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many have been preserved
in seaworthy condition, fully-decorated with profuse clusters
of roses painted in red, blue, green and yellow on backgrounds
of black or dark green. Other than roses, simplistic and
naive daisies, marigold, dahlias, chrysanthemums, pansies
and primroses plus hybrids of flowers created by the quick
hand of the boat painters were also a feature of traditional
Pictorial insets featuring
castles, huge country houses, churches, cottages, lighthouses,
of the owners’ dogs, horses and the head of the "Players"
cigarette advertisement sailor were also frequently painted.
An IKEA watering which
I transformed into a traditional piece of "canalware".
The roses formed of
comma strokes usually surround the insets or are painted as borders
as part of the design.
The roses were painted almost to a formula – ovals
of leaves are formed in the background, then veined and shadowed.
Using the tip of the brush, short yellow or orange strokes
are painted at the edges of the leaves to suggest movement.
Circles are then painted as the basis for the roses which
are then formed using contrasting, different sized comma
strokes. These simple brushstrokes enabled the barge painters
to complete their painting rather quickly.
An old kitchen roll
holder was given a new lease of life with comma stroke
roses in the canalboat style.
scenes, which were the most commonly used, also have
very strong predominant features
in Canalboat Painting – they were usually painted
on a white background, with blue skies and white clouds.
The castle would be set on a hill or rise and you would quite
often see more hills in the background. There is usually
water and a bridge in front of the castle and sometimes,
trees next to the castle. Sailing boats in the distance are
another feature. The castles are painted stylistically, usually
with towers and a triangular flag at the top. Roofs were
Origins of Canalboat
Historically, the origins of this folk art
remain a mystery. Nobody really knows where it came from. It was
first written about in the mid 1800’s. It has been suggested
that it may be a leftover Victorian commercial art nurtured by
the old-fashioned culture of the canal folk to elevate their status.
Some say it originated elsewhere - similar styles of folk art existed
in Scandinavia and Germany at the time. Hindeloopen, painted in
the 18th century was also only across the channel and the castles
painted in the scenery sometimes did appear more Mediterranean than English,
castles and roses design painted on the dark green background
of a tissue box holder. Adapted from a design by Chris Wallace.
It is said that Canalboat Painting
flourished when women were brought on board the boats to
help their husbands
as "unpaid crew" on long journeys. These narrow canalboats
became tiny floating homes. To occupy themselves, to emulate the
more comfortable surroundings in their homes and to distinguish
their boats from others' they painted the cabins, doors, cupboards
and furniture on board their boats. Even utensils were not spared.
The now familiar Buckby buckets,
milk cans, metal boxes, coal scuttles, jugs, even the
wash basin, headlamp,
of the boat, and the horse's feed tin were covered with roses and
landscape in strong primary colours. Later these decorations
extended to the exterior of the boats and included lettering and
scrollwork to identify the boat. Many of the domestic so-called "canalware" are
highly sought after as collectibles today.
A bell painted with canalboat roses - found
in a flea market in Swindon, UK.