Sydney Ernest Hart was born in Landwednack, The Lizard, Cornwall in 1867. His birth was registered in the Oct-Nov-Dec quarter in the Helston district of Cornwall.
The records we have found for Sydney start around 1884, at the age of 17 and show him exhibiting works of art alongside his father, Thomas Hart. He is obviously showing his father’s skill at this stage as a quote in the Western Times, Thursday 18 September 1884 shows:
the Morning at Kynance Cove,’ by Sidney E. Hart, is a drawing full of the effect of the morning light, with mist and admirable atmospheric effects. ‘Wreck at Watergate Bay North Coast of Cornwall,’ also by Sidney E. Hart, powerfully drawn and rich in harmonious colouring. It delineates figures busy about the stranded vessel, the sea is exceptionally fine.-“
He is also considered competent enough by his father, Thomas Hart FSA, as he is included in adverts placed in 1885 for artistic instruction by Thomas Hart in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 13 April 1885 which lists in a advert ‘assistance by Herbert Passingham Hart and Sydney E. Hart’.
More mentions can be found in various newspapers for exhibitions around the country where Thomas and his sons display both paintings and drawings for sale.
In around 1874 Sydney’s father, Thomas Hart FSA starts his annual treks to Odda, Norway where he spends long periods of the summer months painting and selling his works to Victorian tourists. Odda became a significant tourist area in the 19th Century with high profile visitors such as German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II who visited every year from 1891 – 1914.
We know that Sydney was with his father at Odda, in 1895, as a newspaper article in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 23 August 1895 talks about a great fire at the Hardanger Hotel, a very large wooden building as you will see in the photograph below, The fire started at about 11am in one of the rooms and quickly spread. Thomas Hart and Sydney Hart are both listed as guests as well as Thomas’s good friend Rev. Dr. Boyd. The fire was so fierce and quick that all of the guests lost all their effects and most of their money. They all had to seek refuge in the steamers that were docked nearby, and leave for Bergen on the following morning.
Sydney joins his father again on the trip to Odda in 1896. We know this from the inscription of a painting bought by a tourist at this time which reads “Purchased of the artist at Odda, Hardinger Fiord, Norway, August 1896”. Although it is possible he was there much earlier as Sydney exhibits a watercolour at the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society’s annual exhibition in 1889 titled “Tysestryngenefosses” based on a waterfall in the Odda area.
Sydney settled in Odda, living in several locations but for a long time staying at the Harbinger Hotel. He also took over his father’s studio which was located across from the hotel near to the church. Sydney travelled all over Norway painting and drawing selling his work mainly to tourists but also to the locals.
Thomas’s studio which was taken over by Sydney. this picture was taken when they had celebration for Sydney
In Odda a company called Odda Smelting existed which produced calcium carbide and dicyandiamide and in 1992 they produced their annual calendar which was the fifth in the series of old Odda images. Their subject in this year was watercolours by both Thomas Hart FSA and Sydney Hart, painted at Odda, also supplied was a history of both Thomas and Sydney researched from both first and second hand accounts. It gives a unique insight into the personality of Sydney and the type of life he led.
The calender was printed in Norwegian and has been translated with Google Translate.
“Sydney Ernest Hart, who was born in Falmouth, England, in 1867, went with his father to Odda in 1895 or 1896, settling in Odda and was here until his death in 1921. He took over his father’s small studio just across from the church, and painted pictures of all the sights in Odda and surrounding districts. He always signed his pictures with Sydney E. Hart, in a few cases, he just wrote his first name Sidney.”
The calender goes on to describe Sydney’s painting style:
“Sydney E. Hart works look very much like his father’s pictures. Olav Kolltveit characterizes Sydney’s watercolors so, he painted fine, idealized landscape watercolors, which in a large part were sold to English tourists, but some of the pictures ended up with locals and also around the Norway.”
Describing where Sydney lived the calender cites the reminisces of Olav Kolltveit: editor of the magazine Hardanger
“Sydney Hart may have lived several places in Odda but for a number of years he lived in the Hotel Hardanger until the end of 1917, when Odda municipality purchased the property for use as City Hall. Olav Kolltveit says that when he arrived in 1917 to Odda as editor of the magazine Hardanger it was tricky to get a place to live. He was therefore resident at Hotel Hardanger for a few weeks. The hotel was now almost empty , with only a few guests . Sometimes Olav Kollveit and Sydney Hart were the only diners in the large dining hall with seating for 250 diners. They then sat in solitary majesty in each end of the long table. In 1917, Sydney Hart moved over to the Grand Hotel.”
He also describes Sydney’s appearance :
“He was a true ‘English gentleman type’ to look at , not the ‘long kind’ , but ‘well grown’ , had a typical English face with black bushy eyebrows , and his hair was black. He often wore knickerbockers.” (plus fours)
The calender goes onto to describe what the locals thought of Sydney Hart:
“He was like Henry Boyd and his father Thomas an avid salmon fisherman. People in Odda knew basically very little about him, but it was known that Hart was a periodic heavy drinker. Native people would therefore conclude that he was the family’s black sheep , and for that reason was placed in Odda by the family. After about 1906 Sydney Hart never traveled back to his country. For the villagers, he was an enigma.”
This is not entirely true as evidence shows he did travel back to Cornwall. The 1901 census shows him staying at Polbrean, recorded as an Artist Sculptor. He was also back in 1905, although there is evidence to back up that he was indeed a heavy drinker based on a series of news articles published in 1905 regarding some of his brushes with the law.
In September 1905 Sydney travels back to England and ends up in trouble. Three times he is pulled up in front of the court for being drunk and incapable, first in the Western Times – Thursday 14 September 1905:
“EXETER POLICE COURT. Before Messrs’ J. Irish (Chairman), T. Mortimer and Alfred S. Perkins, at Exeter Police Court yesterday.
ARTIST IN TROUBLE.
Sidney Ernest. Hart, described as an artist, who only came into the City on Monday, was charged with being drunk and incapable, from the evidence of P.C. Snell and Charles England, it appeared that the defendant, who is stated to have come from Norway, was seen in drunken condition in the streets on Tuesday. He had a crowd around him in High-street, and the constable advised him to go home. Instead of acting on the advice, the man used abusive language to the officer. Charles England took pity upon him, and endeavoured to help him to his lodgings, but on the way defendant also abused him for his trouble, and he was then left to his fate or to the mercy of the police. Finally he seems to have wandered into Martins lane, where he entered the side bar of the Clarence Hotel, whence P.C. Snell! took him to the Police Station. Being searched, a bottle whisky and some £20 odd money were found upon him. Later, he was released on depositing as security for his appearance before the Magistrates. When the case was called upon, defendant did not appear, and, in his absence, he was ordered to pay £1 and costs and to forfeit the amount of his recognisance. Subsequently, however, he put in an appearance, and the explanation being given that he had been trying to find the Police Court, and that Inspector Wheeler had found him engaged on that quest at the Guildhall, the Bench decided to restore him his £5.”
He is then in court again as reported by the Western Times – Thursday 28 September 1905
“Sidney Ernest Hart, 45, artist, of no fixed address, was charged with being drunk and incapable, Richmond Road the 26th inst. – He pleaded guilty. – P.C. Bishop said at 7pm last night he found the man in a helpless condition lying across the footpath in Bystock-terrace. He sent for the ambulance, but before it arrived he succeeded in arousing the man, and took him to the station. –The Chief Constable said the defendant was here on the 3rd of this month, and was fined £1 and costs. –Mr Rowe said the bench were sorry to see the defendant there again under similar circumstances to those a fortnight ago. Did he intend to continue this sort of thing? –Defendant: No. –Mr Rowe: We will give you one chance more. If you are brought here again, you will understand that you will go to prison without the option of a fine. I hope, for your sake, and the sake of your friends, you will turn over a new leaf. –Defendant: Let me know what I have to pay. –Mr Rowe: You will be fined 20s and costs, or 28 days’ imprisonment in default. If you come here again you will go to prison. You understand that. –Defendant: That’s right. –the fine was paid.”
The final episode is described in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Thursday 05 October 1905
“The Exeter Police-court, before Messrs S. Ward (in the chair) J. Irish. J. W. Petherick. T. S. Mortimer, yesterday. Sidney Hart, artist, Exeter, pleaded guilty to being drunk and incapable in Catherine Street on Tuesday. There were previous convictions, and defendant was fined £2.and costs or default, 14 days imprisonment.”
Sydney seems to have been relatively lucky to have got away without going to prison after his last warning. There is no evidence to suggest a reason for this behaviour or whether this is just an example of his recurring drinking problem although there are some hints later in his life.
It is interesting that Sydney never seems to have problems with money, as it can be difficult surviving purely as an artist. The Odda Smelting calender of 1992 again seems to suggest the answer:
“It is clear that Sidney Hart could not live off the sale of his watercolors and he therefore received financial support from home. In the early days Thomas Hart supplied support through merchant Olaf O. Aga. the stay at the Grand Hotel was paid from England directly to the hotel owner Lothe.”
This is not that surprising as we have found several records showing Thomas Hart offering support for several of his children, paying off debts of various kinds.
Although the people of Odda describe Sydney as an enigma he does seem to have made friends and not spent his time entirely alone.
“In all years, Henry Boyd, Sydney E. Hart’s close friend and protector. In 1914, Boyd did not return to Odda. But Sydney Hart taking other friends in Odda , especially families Jakobsen and Thompson. Jakobsen was General Manager in Credit Bank, he was married, but had two sisters in Odda. One was married to Englishman Thompson, who was the office manager at Karbidfabrikken and lived in von Krogh house. The other sister was married and looked after the house for the bank manager . She was a close friend of Sydney Hart, and the two were often seen on tour around the countryside here in Odda.”
He also shows a connection to a maid Ali Hoyland Nyhamar who worked at the Grand Hotel between 1918 to 1920:
“Ali Hoyland Nyhamar, born in 1892 , from Leirvik knew Sydney Hart well. She worked as a maid at the Grand Hotel for few years from about 1918 to 1920. She describes Mr. Hart as a gentle man who was always polite and kind, but kept to himself. His Norwegian was so bad that it was difficult to understand him. The Maid’s did not appreciate that he messed up his room badly, but he was always thankful and praised those who cleaned it up.
Sydney Hart must of somehow taken special affection for Ali Hoyland Nyhamar . When she stopped working at the Grand Hotel Sydney Hart stood in his window and waved to her as long as he could see her. In parting gift he gave her three watercolours. Two smaller images respectively Skjeggedal waterfall and Låtefoss waterfall and a somewhat larger picture of Ullensvang Church. Mrs. Nyhamars son Hogne characterizes pictures as follows: ‘They are all in the traditional idealized style. It is possible they represent the greatest art, but technically they are in my opinion very high’
After the First World War, Norway like so many European countries was hit by economic problems and this seems to have had affected Sydney’s life badly:
“In December 1920 came into Odda an economic crisis, and all industrial activities in Odda and Tyssedal ended. A crisis that would last 14 years.
A short time before it joined General Manager Jakobsen In Credit Bank, and the families Jakobsen and Thompson just left the place.
After this, Sydney Hart must have felt very lonely. His close friends were gone and tourists had ended. There were not many people anymore to buy his pictures, his Father had died and the support he gave ended. He also had his problems with alcohol to contend with.”
“In the morning, 29 June 1921 was not Sydney Hart down for breakfast at the Grand Hotel. They found him in bed bleeding from a artery. He was still alive and was taken to hospital but died after five days on the 4, July 1921 of pneumonia. He was 54 years old, and had lived in Odda in 26 years.”
Sydney Ernest Hart died 4 July 1921 at Bergen Hosiptal.
Having spent nearly half his life in Odda it is difficult to believe that he has not made some kind of impact on the inhabitants of Odda. Even though the locals believed him to be an enigma and that his Norwegian was so bad that it was virtually impossible to understand, the calender gives one final piece of information which shows the people of Odda still took it upon themselves to give Sydney Ernest Hart respect and treat him as one of their own. A fitting epitaph if ever there was one:
“Sydney Hart remained a mystery to the villagers.
Sydney Ernest Hart’s grave in Odda, Norway
He was buried in Berjaflot, and later his grave was moved to a more appropriate location just north of the chapel with a new headstone paid for by the people of Odda.