Masters of Water-Colour Painting

As limitation of space will not admit of giving any account of the life of Turner, already well known, it may be sufficient to say that Lucerne: Moonlight (Plate XII) was painted in 1843, and was originally in the collection of Mr. H. A. J. Munro of Novar. Ruskin, who calls it a noble drawing in his “Notes on his Drawings by the late J. M. W. Turner,” makes a mistake in the title and describes it as Zurich by Moonlight. John Sell Cotman, a member of the Norwich School, was another pioneer who did much for the advancement of water-colour painting. Unfortunately, his work was not appreciated during his career. If he had lived in the twentieth century he would have had no cause for the fits of depression to which he was subject during the greater part of life. It can be well recognised that in the first half of last century the public, who were mainly accustomed to carefully drawn topographical scenes, failed to appreciate such paintings as the Classical Scene (Plate XIII), executed with such freedom and vigour. It was recently exhibited at the Special Exhibition of Cotman’s Paintings at the Tate Gallery, when five other classical landscape compositions were also shown. Cotman’s work was not understood. His paintings, both in oil and water colour, often only realised less than a pound apiece. He was compelled to resort to teaching in order to support his family. Eventually, through the influence of his friend, Lady Palgrave, and the strong support of Turner, he obtained the post of drawing-master at King’s College School, London. His position then became more secure. Still, teaching boys in the underground rooms of Somerset House could not have been inspiriting to one who yearned to seek Nature in the open air. He could not exclaim, like “Old” Crome, when he with his pupils was once met on the banks of the Yare, “This is our academy.” He died of a broken heart. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was a feeling amongst the artists who worked solely in water colours that they were not being fairly treated by the Royal Academy. They were ineligible to be elected members of that body, and they were of opinion that their works were never placed in a prominent position on the walls of the galleries. William Frederick Wells, a friend of Turner and said to have suggested to him the idea of producing his “Liber Studiorum,” proposed to his fellow artists that they should form a separate society for the promotion of water-colour painting. After considerable negotiations, ten artists met together in November, 1804, and founded the Society of Painters in Water Colours. The first exhibition was held in the Spring of the following year at rooms in Lower Brook Street. After various vicissitudes and many changes of abode this society, known in later years as the “Old” Society, eventually obtained a lease of the premises in Pall Mall East. Thus, after much roving for seventeen years, a permanent home was secured, and the centenary of the occupation of these galleries has just been completed. Varley and Glover were two of the original members. De Wint, Copley Fielding, David Cox and Samuel Prout were subsequently elected Associates, and afterwards became full members.

Amongst the founders the name of John Varley stands out beyond the others. He was born at Hackney (see Plate XIV) in 1778. Receiving but little instruction in art besides the assistance given to him by Dr. Monro, he became a teacher of considerable reputation. Amongst his pupils were many who afterwards became famous. To mention only a few, there were William Mulready, who married his sister, Copley Fielding, who espoused his wife’s sister, W. Turner (of Oxford), David Cox, William H. Hunt, Oliver Finch and John Linnell. Varley was a prolific worker, and contributed more than seven hundred drawings to the “Old” Society, averaging about forty works annually. His style was broad and simple, with tints beautifully laid, without resort to stippling. He wrote some works on drawing and perspective. He also was an enthusiast in astrology, and compiled a “Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy.” John Glover was a landscape painter and produced works, both in oil and in water colours, into which he frequently introduced cattle. His father having been a small farmer may account for this partiality for animals. In water-colour painting he followed the methods of William Payne, the inventor of a grey tint known as Payne’s grey, in producing foliage by splitting the hairs of his brush in order to give a feeling of lightness, and he was partial to sunlight effects (see Plate XV). He was President of the “Old” Society on two occasions, but he resigned his membership, so as to become eligible for election to the Royal Academy. He failed in his object and joined the Society of British Artists. Glover suddenly left England in 1831, and went to the Swan River Settlement in Australia. Afterwards he removed to Tasmania, where he died.