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Here comes the Moon: Edward Louis Lawrenson’s 1920s Sussex Moonrise

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On the occasion of this year’s Harvest Moon (20/21 September) and the Autumn equinox (22 September) we hung this atmospheric landscape painting in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. Curator Alexandra Loske takes a closer look at the painting and its little-known creator.

Moonrise on the Rape of Hastings, East Sussex by Edward Louis Lawrenson, ca. 1920
Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust

Moonrise on the Rape of Hastings, East Sussex was painted by the now little-known artist Edward Louis Lawrenson (1868–1940) The phrase ‘Rape of Hastings’ refers to a traditional sub-division of the county of Sussex. The term was first used in William the Conqueror’s Doomsday Book (11th century) and is unique to the county.

Lawrenson [sometimes spelled Laurenson] was a Dublin-born painter and etcher, who for many years lived in Hadlow Down, near Uckfield in Sussex and died in Brighton in 1940. Turning down a career as a soldier, he decided to study art in Paris and Holland, and his work shows a strong influence of the French Symbolists and Impressionists. For a while he was associated with the Académie Colarossi in Paris and was tutored by Czech Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha.

By the 1910s Lawrenson had a studio in Kensington, London. Although he produced many sketches of the urban landscape, he spent much of his time on the road, travelling widely in England and on the continent in a motor-car (then still relatively rare), painting in the open air. He was particularly keen on capturing the effects of light, and – in true Impressionist manner – largely avoided black or very dark tones in his palette. His works displays a great understanding of coloured shadows and colour composition.

In this painting Lawrenson expresses his passion for changing light conditions, capturing a Moonrise, still low on the horizon, framed by tall trees that dramatically cut vertically through the composition. You can just imagine him, having parked his motor-car by the side of a country road in Sussex, waiting, palette and easel prepared, for what looks like a late summer full Moon to rise. Although he may well have finished the painting in his studio, the size of the canvas suggests he probably began the painting in the open. Sadly, we do not know the exact location of the site, but if any reader recognises it, do get in touch.

The Moon is clearly the focal point in this painting, and Lawrenson uses a range of muted blues, greys and greens to depict the crepuscular evening light. The palette and composition are reminiscent of paintings by French 19th-century painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes or even some of Edvard Munch’s melancholy lunar landscapes.

Look closely and you will also see the Sun in the painting: The band of golden glow visible in the top half of the trees’ foliage is the light of the setting sun, behind the painter (and viewer) of this landscape. A full Moon always rises in direct opposition to the Sun. Given his keen interest in light conditions in nature, Lawrenson would have been aware of this, and known that the trees framing his rising Moon would be bathed in warm sunlight.

Alexandra Loske, Curator (Royal Pavilion)

Edward Lawrenson’s Moonrise on the Rape of Hastings on display in Brighton Museum, September 2021

Discover More

  • Find the painting at the top of the stairs at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, just outside the exit doors of the David Bowie exhibition.
  • Follow our Twitter for information on upcoming short gallery talks on this and other works of art on display in Brighton Museum and our other venues.
  • View Moonrise on the Rape of Hastings, East Sussex by Edward Louis Lawrenson on our image website