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Will Ashton (1881-1963)
Morning Light, Sospel, France 1936
oil on canvas
53.7 x 65
Gift of Howard Hinton 1944


Born 1881, England. Died 1963, Sydney.

John William (Will) Ashton migrated to Australia as a child and grew up in Adelaide. Unrelated to the Julian Rossi Ashton family, he was the son of artist James Ashton. Working in his father’s studio he became acquainted with Hans Heysen. In 1900 he left Australia to study painting and drawing in England and Paris. For more than two decades Ashton moved between Europe and Australia. Many successful exhibitions established him as an artist on both continents. In 1937 he accepted the position of Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He was knighted in 1960.

Ashton was interested in the changing effects of light on the landscape. He won the Wynne Prize for Landscape painting in 1908, 1930 and 1939. He worked mainly in oils and while using a free and vigorous technique never departed from design and good draughtsmanship.

This painting is one of seven works by this artist in the Hinton Collection–five of which have their subjects as France. Ashton depicts the village of Sospel in south-eastern France near the Italian border. We can sense the coolness of the water flowing over rocks, slightly downhill under the old stone bridge, built in the 13th Century as a toll-bridge for travellers crossing the Bevera River. It's too early for people to be out and about, but we delight in the lush green hills and purple shadows. Since being bombed by the Germans in WWII, the tower in this painting has been restored and now houses the Sospel tourist office. This work was shown at Ashton's 1936 solo exhibition at the David Jones Art Gallery. The show featured works from his recent travels in France and Spain, which were cut short by the Spanish Civil War. It was noted at the time that many of the picturesque Spanish towns he had painted were shortly afterwards bombed in the war.