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Hidden treasures of the Wallace Collection… Watercolours

The British love watercolours. They also seem to love Paris and the popularity of our 2013 exhibition The Discovery of Paris: Watercolours by Early Nineteenth-Century British Artists was a brilliant testament to this.

This love started at the beginning of the nineteenth century, where artists such as J.M.W.Turner and Richard Parkes Bonington were joined by thousands of amateurs in their mission to paint with watercolours. Societies were founded to further progress the medium, including the Old Water-Colour Society, and exhibitions were held to feed the public’s insatiable appetite for watercolours and display the general abundance of paintings of the genre.

The Hertford family were no exception to this trend. The 4th Marquess was a great admirer of Bonington’s works and acquired 29 of his watercolours between 1843 and 1864, along with other artists including Turner, William Callow and David Roberts. However, the majority of our watercolours are sadly not on display. Watercolours are very delicate and fade rapidly as the pigment particles are laid very thinly, which allows light in. Larger Galleries and Museums are able to exhibit their watercolours publicly by using special darkened rooms to make sure that the art is not affected by light. This option, in our small London town house, is not available to us. Instead, our watercolours are kept for their own protection in the Reserve Gallery.

Below we have chosen five of our watercolours to give you a sneak peek into our Collection’s hidden treasure trove. If this is not enough to sate your curiosity fear not as visitors can book an appointment to visit!


Richard Parkes Bonington, Sunset in the Pays de Caux, 1828

Richard Parkes Bonington, Sunset in the Pays de Caux, 1828

Richard Parkes Bonington remains one of the most prolific English watercolour painters to this day. Considering he died at the age of 25 in 1828, it is surprising how many paintings, 35 in total, we have in the Collection. Inspired by paintings in the Louvre, he often went off on sketching holidays to Normandy . Following his fame in France, he won acclaim and popularity in London after he exhibited in 1826. This painting was one of his last before his death, perhaps explaining the solemn nature. The Pays de Caux was a frequented often by Bonington on his sketching holidays. His admiration for Turner’s work was well known and it shines through here with his use of yellow tones and the treatment of the setting sun.



Copley Fielding, Langdale Pikes, 1839

Copley Fielding was a prolific landscape painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and at the Old Water-Colour Society. Indeed an impressive 1,748 works were shown at the latter between 1813 and 1855. He  went on to become the  President of the Old Water-Colour Society between 1832 and 1855. Fielding specialised in coastal scenes and views in Wales and the Lake District; he was particularly admired for his depiction of misty distances. This is shown clearly in this painting of Langdale Pike, in the Lake District. This area had recently seen a growth in tourism, which consequently increased the demand and popularity of such depictions, all to Fielding’s benefit.



Joseph Mallord William Turner, Woodcock Shooting on Otley Chevin, 1813

Surely an artist who still needs no introduction, Turner was born on St George’s Day in 1775 in London, the son of a barber. He went on to enrol as a student at the Royal Academy, where he exhibited his work from 1790 to 1850. He was a noted traveller around Britain and Europe, which the variety and number of his sketches reflect; the British Museum has 260 of his sketch books from his travels. Woodcock Shooting on Otley Chevin was painted during a stay with his great friend and patron Walker Fawkes, who was located nearby at Farnley Hall. Turner often stayed there for shooting and sketching holidays. His great love of the Yorkshire landscape is not only reflected  in his landscape paintings, but also inspired his historiographical works, such as Hannibal crossing the Alps, which now hangs in the Tate.



David Roberts, Baalbec: the Temple of Jupiter, 1842

The Scottish painter, David Roberts, experimented with house and theatre painting before finding his calling with architectural and topographical subjects, displaying at both the British Institution and Royal Academy. Though he progressed to be President of the Society of British Artists, he soon resigned to pursue his passion for travelling. His Oriental scenes from his visits to the Middle East  were enthusiastically received at home as the Orientalism craze took hold in fashionable society. It was on his travels that he came across the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbec, in Lebanon in 1829. He recorded in his journal, “It would be difficult to convey even in drawing any idea of this magnificent ruin, its beauty of form, the exquisite richness of its decoration or the vast magnitude of its dimensions”. Fortunately for us the 4th Marquess of Hertford disagreed and purchased it for the Collection twenty years later.



William Callow, Entering Harbour, 1842

Callow flourished as a watercolour painter under the guidance of Theodore Henry Fielding before relocating to Paris, where he became an accomplished painter and even became the drawing master to the children of King Louis-Philippe. His admiration for Bonington and Turner influenced his style, as demonstrated in Entering Harbour, as Turner’s skill at introducing drama into the scene is replicated here. Callow later returned to England and became a stalwart of the Old Water-Colour Society.

By Marie Stirling

If you like more information on viewing our watercolour collection please contact, in advance to your visit.

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