Full Details for Lot 927
Sale DEC11A Lot 927
George Frederick Watts, (1817-1904), portrait of John Whichelo, oil on canvas, exhibited at the Royal Academy 1840 no 7, 30" x 24.5" NOTES: The imposing oil on canvas in its original elaborately carved giltwood frame is a portrait of the artist John Wichelo, who gained renown for his paintings for the Prince Regent. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840 and was Watts' first named portrait shown there. Since then, it has remained in the same family ownership, passing by inheritance to the present vendor, making this the first time the portrait has been seen on the open market.
The sitter (Charles) John Mayne Whichelo (1784-1865) became known as an illustrator. His earliest work was of a purely topographical character, and some of his drawings were engraved for Wilkinson's "Londina Illustrata" and Brayley's "Beauties of England and Wales". He exhibited marine views at the Royal Academy from 1810 until his death and was chosen to be Marine and Landscape Painter to the Prince Regent, an appointment he held for several years.
Whichelo became an associate member of the Old Watercolour Society in 1823. He was a regular contributor to its exhibitions for the next 40 years, his subjects being mainly representations of English coast and harbour scenery, with a few views of Dutch rivers. He usually signed his drawings "John Whichelo". He also taught for a time and his studio sale was held at Christie's in 1866.
That he was chosen by Watts as the sitter for his first named portrait at the RA is indicative of Wichelo's place in the history of British art. Grey-haired Whichelo is pictured seated in a casual pose, his eyes catching the viewer's attention, and tellingly holding a drawing instrument in his right hand, clearly indicating his profession.
Watts is an artist linked to his adopted home of Compton, near Guildford, by the Watts Gallery, which opened to the public in 1904. Its curator, Mark Bills, said his work is of seminal importance in understanding the Victorian period because he was one of its most notable artistic innovators. "A complex figure, Watts was the finest and most penetrating portraitist of his age, a sculptor, landscape painter and symbolist which earned him the title 'England's Michelangelo.'
His fame and renown was not limited to Britain ... in 1884 he was the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, a show so enormously successful that it led to a longer run and a gift of his great work, "Love and Life" to the American people. His works also found great favour in Europe, winning gold medals at the Paris Universal Exhibitions in 1878 and 1889. His influence among symbolists was profound and can be seen in the works of Gustave Moreau and Fernand Knopff.
This portrait is included in Mary Watts schedule of the artist's work (see below)
Amongst Documents being sold with this lot are three signed letters from G F Watts as follows;
1. April 4th 1885 from Little Holland House Kensington, replying to a letter from Mr Rowe. He apologies for the delay in replying to a letter because of illness. "I do not doubt the portrait which I should much like to see was painted by me for I very well recollect painting Mr Whichelo and as far as I recall it I should not be surprised to find it good enough to put to shame many of my later works"
2 Jan 12th 1890 from Monks Hatch Guildford. " could you find out without giving yourself any inconvenience where that portrait is now."
3 Feb 1st (1890) from Monks Hatch Guildford, suggesting that the picture be brought to him so that he could sign it.
4 July 28th 1927 signed letter from Mary Watts Linnerslease Guildford, refering to the possibility of sale and bemoaning the fact that like other portraits of distinguished men it would have little value. " I feel certain that at Christies now it would not fetch the value of the frame!"
Mrs Watts in her ledger refers to her husband having subsequently seen the portrait again over 50 years after it had been painted but she says; This picture disappointed Mr Watts on seeing it again after nearly 50 years,. He had hoped he said "that it was a better thing".
Watts had suggested that he sign the painting but clearly did not do so as it remains unsigned.
Provenance; The portrait has passed by inheritance and the present owner is a distant relative of the sitter. This is the first time that it has been on the market since it was painted in 1840
Estimate £ 5,000-8,000
Cracking to picture surface. Some areas re-painted where paint has flaked off, most noticeably around the hands. Wear to frame.
Sold for £5000
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