Samuel Colman

(September 1780 - 21 January 1845)

English painter. First recorded in Somerset in 1813, when he married a Yeovil woman, Colman lived in Bristol between 1816 and 1838, working as a portrait painter and drawing-master. His work developed under the influence of Edward Bird and younger members of the Bristol School, particularly Francis Danby. He exhibited with other artists in Bristol, 1824-34. St James's Fair (1824), is Colman's version of the country market satire familiar in the work of Bird and of Edward Villiers Rippingille. Like Hogarth, Colman used traditional emblems and other symbols, providing hidden references to local and national matters.

Samuel Colman was associated with the Bristol School of Artists and worked in Bristol from about 1815 to 1840. He painted romantic landscapes, subjects from the Old Testament and portraits. St James’s Fair is is one of his finest paintings. St James’s Fair was an important annual event in Bristol from medieval times until the 19th century. The fair was a week-long event held near St James’s Church, The Horsefair, Bristol. As you look at the painting and its characters, a story of events unfolds. In the foreground a man presents a ring purchased from a street seller, to the right of the picture a stolen watch is passed through a window to an accomplice, and on the left are two men, one holding a betting book, the other a bible. The painting serves as a moral sermon contrasting good and evil, virtue and vice. The most obvious example is the well-built house on the left contrasted with the derelict building where villains and thieves abound. St James’s Fair was stopped in 1837 as it had become associated with crime.

Like John Martin, Colman specialised in apocalyptic paintings. Colman was a Nonconformist: a Protestant who opposed the Established Church, in this case the Church of England. Not surprisingly, this painting shows the embodiment of state-run religion -- a Gothic cathedral -- being destroyed, with its inhabitants cowering in terror. Resurrected spirits rise from the ground and assemble in the sky above. The cathedral’s stone cross, representing established religion, crashes to the ground, silhouetted by a blood-red horizon. Meanwhile the true cross, the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and of eternal life and here representing pure faith, appears in the brilliant celestial light.