East (RSA), Sir Alfred

Alfred Edward East (1844-1913) was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire. He worked for the family firm of shoemakers, becoming a sales representative for the company in Glasgow. There he attended evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art. 

East made a number of watercolour paintings of Scottish landscapes, some of which show ‘glimpses’ of the River Clyde in winter, emulating the Scottish painter John Farquharson’s popular snowy winter landscapes with sheep.

In his late thirties, East left the family firm to become a full-time artist, studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he was influenced by the Barbizon school of landscape artists, in particular the works of Corot and Daubigny. He was also influenced by the British landscape tradition of Constable and Turner. He painted across Britain and also sketched regularly in France, Italy, Spain and North Africa. After exhibiting at the Fine Art Society in 1888, he was commissioned to spend 6 months in Japan to paint the landscape and people of the country. In 1890 he exhibited 104 paintings at the Fine Art Society from his tour of Japan, which proved to be a spectacular success. 

In later years East travelled in America, where his work also proved popular. He worked direct from nature, in a manner which gives an open, airy and atmospheric feel to his work.

His illustrated The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour was published in 1906, describing his techniques for drawing, and for using colours and half-tones. In the same year he was elected President of the Royal Society of British Artists (a position he held until his death). 

He was awarded a Knighthood in 1910 by King Edward VII and a banquet was held in his honour in his native town of Kettering. He had his portrait painted by Philip de Laszlo. 

The Alfred East Gallery in Kettering opened on 31 July 1913 by Lord Spencer and is now Northamptonshire's oldest purpose-built art gallery. 

East was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1899, having been a regular exhibitor since 1883 and elected to full membership in 1913.

On 28 September 1913, Alfred East died at his London residence in Belsize Park. His body was taken back to Kettering and lay in state in the Art Gallery, where it was surrounded by the pictures he had presented to the town. East’s works are now to be found in over 60 galleries worldwide.