Curator's Pick

Capturing a Fleeting Moment – A Moon Rainbow (IOMMM: 1959-0115)

This painting from Archibald Knox’s striking watercolour collection, was chosen by Yvonne Cresswell, Curator of Social History at Manx National Heritage. Following the digitisation of Archibald Knox watercolours from the National Art Collection, 134 paintings are now available for you to view on iMuseum.
To most people, Archibald Knox (1864-1933) is best known internationally for his metalwork designs for Liberty & Co., whilst on the Isle of Man he is probably even better known for his distinctive watercolour paintings. In a long and extremely prolific artistic career, Knox not only found time to combine his work as an art master with that of a designer of everything from Liberty silverwork commissions to a local grocer’s cheques, he was also a watercolour artist who produced hundreds of paintings in his spare time. The watercolours were rarely signed and even more rarely exhibited in his lifetime and can be seen as personal artistic exercises for the artist as he tried to capture the light and a single moment in time. It was said that although Knox might only take a few hours to paint one of his watercolour scenes, he could also sit for hours on a hedge bank waiting for the exact light and cloud formations that he wanted to paint and try to capture.
Manx National Heritage has over a hundred watercolour paintings by Archibald Knox, including panoramic views of the Manx landscape, whitewashed farms and mill buildings and coastal scenes. But a distinctive feature of many of Knox’s watercolours is his ability to capture light and fleeting cloud formations, from a ‘mackerel’ sky to approaching storm clouds, one feels one could almost produce a weather forecast from his paintings. Each of Knox’s ‘skyscapes’ feels like a unique and individual record of exactly what the sky looked like on the day that Knox went out to paint.
So out of all the Knox watercolours, my favourite is one which captures the rarest of fleeting moments and one which most of us will sadly never get to see, A Moon Rainbow. Although most of Knox’s watercolours were untitled and unidentified views of the Manx landscape, Knox’s niece identified this as being a study of a rainbow produced by the rays of the moon.

The simplicity and almost abstract nature of the work also highlights the influence that Knox had on future generations of Manx artists who either saw his work in National Art Gallery at the Manx Museum or who had been either taught by him or were themselves taught by Knox’s ex-pupils. This legacy can be seen in works such as Bracken Mountainby, the Manx artist, Norman Sayle, who had himself been taught by John H. Nicholson, one of Knox ex-pupils. So a painting that captures the most fleeting of moments is still one that can fascinate and inspire years later.