Born in Caherconlish, County Limerick, Republic of Ireland (28 August, 1847), the son of Mary (née Moore) and Captain William Garstin. From a difficult childhood (his mother’s paralysis and invalidism, and his father’s suicide), he was brought up by loving aunts. After school at Victoria College, Jersey, he had short-term ‘trys’ at engineering, architecture and finally diamond hunting in South Africa (becoming a close friend of Cecil Rhodes), becoming involved in the Cape government and journalism.
In 1880 he began his art training at the Royal Academy in Antwerp with Verstraete, and then studied at Carolus-Duran’s Academy in Paris (1882-84), beginning to exhibit in British galleries during that period. Always he wrote, and recorded his reactions, journalism proving an excellent avocation throughout his life and one which he would pass on to his sons, Crosbie GARSTIN and Denis Garstin. His articles in The Studio and other magazines thread their way through the history of the Newlyn colony, always supportive of his working colleagues and their art. His daughter, Alethea GARSTIN would follow his other route and take-up art.
He married Louisa ‘Dochie’ Jones in 1886 after his ‘grand tour’ to Venice, Italy, Morocco and Spain, all of which added up to a large portfolio of work. The couple settled in Newlyn where many of his former colleagues from Antwerp had already set up, and where the general aversion to academic art agreed with his individualist and realist inclinations. In 1886 they lived at Mount Vernon, in Newlyn, though by 1895 they had moved into Penzance.
He was on the Provisional Committee of artists when NAG opened 22nd October 1895, and worked steadily with it over many years (see his Introduction to the Whitechapel Spring Exhibition of 1902, repr Hardie 2009), showing the work of artists from the various West Cornwall colonies. He regularly took groups of art students to his favourite painting haunts on the Continent, and he was a popular and much loved teacher.
Of his many titles, The Rain, it raineth every day (Penlee House Collection) is undoubtedly one of his finest. A portrait of Mary Augusta Carlidna Bolitho was exhibited at Penlee House, Penzance in 2005 (Private Collection). Norman Garstin died on 22 June, 1926, age 78, in Penzance (GRO).