[This biography of William Gale comes from The Art-Journal, Vol. XXXI (1869): 373-75. James Dafforne (1804-1880) was a well-known journalist and art-critic, a regular contributor to the journal. For details of the issue, see the bibliography. — Jacqueline Banerjee]

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HIS painter was born in London, in 1823. He was educated at the Grammar School, Brompton; and on completing his ordinary studies there, became, for a short time, a pupil in the Art-academy of Mr. Sass, in Bloomsbury. In 1841 he was enrolled a student of the Eoyal Academy, and had awarded to him, in 1844, a silver medal, with the lectures of Professors Barry, Opie, and Fuseli, for the best copy in the School of Painting; and another silver medal for the best drawing from the living model. In 1845 his name again appears in the list of those who were the recipients of prizes: a silver medal and the same series of lectures being awarded him for the best drawing in chalk from the living model. The books he did not receive, as he had them already.

Pictures of sacred Art, such as those we have engraved, form but a small portion of Mr. Gale’s labours; they are, in fact, among his latest productions. We have before us a list of about eighty subjects exhibited by him since he first appeared before the public, in 1845; and out of this number about ten may have been suggested by scripture narrative. The titles of some of his earlier exhibited pictures show on what variety of themes he tried his yet undeveloped powers: such as Young Celadon and his Amelia (1845); Phœdria (1846); The Indian, and The Voice of Mercy (1847); Merry Mood, and Florimel in the Witch’s Cottage (1848); Heloise, and May (1849); Chaucer’s Dream (1850); Perseus and Andromeda, and Cydippe (1851): the last we remember as a small painting distinguished by much grace and sweetness.

In this year, 1851, Mr. Gale, having married, chose Italy for his wedding-tour, where he remained some time studying the works of the old masters, especially in Rome: in the year following he sent home for the Academy Exhibition An Italian Girl, painted with the finish of a miniature. Another Italian subject, entitled Going to the Sistine Chapel, was exhibited at the British Institution in 1853: it is simply the head and bust of a lady wearing a veil, which she holds with one hand. For delicacy and transparency of feature the work could scarcely be excelled. A somewhat similar subject, called A Peep at the Carnival, was in the same gallery in 1854: it is a small picture, representing a girl looking out of a window, exquisite in colour, and painted with extreme tenderness of flesh-tones. In this year also two subjects he contributed to the Academy exhibition manifested attempts at a higher aim than anything the artist had heretofore produced: these were The Wounded Knight, suggested by the Fairie Queen, and Guiderius and Arviragus repeating the dirge over Imogen, from Cymbeline; but though neither work is devoid of considerable merit, both bear evidence that the painter had not yet attained the power of dealing with grouped figures so successfully as he treated a single figure.

[Drawn by W. J. Allen.] Nazareth. [Engraved by F. Wentworth.]

The principal pictures exhibited by Mr. Gale in 1855, were Grisilda expelled from the house of the Marquis, at the Boyal Academy; and An Incursion of the Danes — Saxon Women watching the Conflict, at the British Institution.

The year 1856 showed five pictures exhibited by this painter, all very different in subject: at the British Institution were hung Imogen and Iachimo, Paolo and Francesca, and Happy Hours in joy and hymning spent; in the Royal Academy were The Runaway, and an excellent study of a head of Christ. Two smaller pictures, Summer-Time, and An Angel, both remarkable for elegance of composition and exquisite finish, were exhibited the following year, with a third work, entitled The Fern-case, at the former of the above named galleries. To the Academy he contributed two little works: The Confidante, two [373/74] young ladies, in a woody landscape, in earnest conversation; and The Exile — a French refugee seated in a small room with La Presse newspaper in his hand. Both are most charmingly executed, but the latter, in subject and delicate manipulation, might be owned by Meissonier without compromising his almost unrivalled talents. It would only be repeating the above remarks were we to comment upon the three cabinet-pictures sent by Mr. Gale to the Academy in 1858: The Sorrowful Days of Evangeline, The Happy Days of Evangeline, a pair; and Two Lovers whispering by an Orchard-wall: all of them perfect gems of Art. In 1859 we find him still pursuing the same successful course of painting, in Little Grandmamma, exhibited at the British Institution; and in Grace Harvey’s Visit to the Sick Child from Kingsley’s Two Years Ago; Love thy Mother, Little One; and Chess-players — “Guard your Queen"! hung in the Royal Academy.

A single picture in each of these two galleries made up the complement of Mr. Gale’s exhibited works in the year following: namely, Mother and Child, in the Institution; and Columbus in Chains, in the Academy: the latter picture an historical incident admirably treated and elaborate in finish.

We presume that Mr. Gale, on his journey into Italy, to which reference has been made, did not pass through Germany without transferring to his sketch-book something that arrested his attention by the way. Probably two pictures, exhibited in 1861, owe their origin to this continental trip: one, A German Flower- Girl, in the British Institution; the other, Land Leben, in the Academy; where at the same time he exhibited Eyes to the Blind, The Father’s Blessing, and Naples in 1859. We have yet so many subsequent pictures to mention that our limited space precludes comment on these. For the same reason we must pasn over, with the simple enumeration of their titles, his productions of the year immediately following: Evangeline, a head only; After the Spanish, the head and bust of a Spanish female — both in the British Institution; God’s Messenger, Autumn, The Sick Wife, and Rejected Addresses, all in the Academy.

[Drawn by W. J. Allen.] Blind Bartimeus. [Engraved by F. Wentworth.]

In the autumn of 1862 Mr. Gale visited the Holy Land, making Jerusalem his head-quarters. The journey evidently turned the current of his Art-conceptions, for from this period commenced the series of pictures of Eastern life and sacred subjects which have formed the staple of his subsequent labours. A second visit to the same deeply interesting country in 1867, when he located himself principally at Nazareth and Tiberias, confirmed him in the course he had taken. His works now assumed a more important and a higher tone: the first of these, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1863, is a scene which had become somewhat familiar to us through preceding works, of other artists, The Jews’ Place of Wailing, in Jerusalem: it bears the impress of Mr. Gale’s minute elaboration of detail. We find in our catalogue of the Academy exhibition of the following year notes of approval appended to his Turtle-doves, Jerusalem, and Syrian Fellahin journeying; the latter suggested by the scriptural passage — “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my Son.’” Of four pictures exhibited by him in the Academy, in 1865, one of the most prominent was BLIND BARTIMEUS, now the property of Thomas E. Walker, Esq., of Thistle Grove, Brompton, to whom we desire to offer our acknowledgments for the facilities he afforded us for engraving it. The group is skilfully arranged, while the face of the young girl is an eloquent appeal on behalf of her afflicted parent. The draperies are painted in n remarkably rich tone of colour; and the quality of light, as expressed on the massive walls of Jericho, is well maintained. Another of this year’s works, by no means inferior to that just described, is an illustration of the passage, — "A woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment.” The figure is of considerable size, and would, perhaps, have acquired power if painted in a less elaborate manner; but, as was said in our Journal at the time, “the artist has gained a quiet and tender expression well in keeping with the act of affection whereon the woman is intent. The colour is marvellous for its lustre.”

Of the two pictures exhibited by Mr. Gale at the Academy in 1866, we much preferred the smaller, entitled Nearing Home; the other, The Offering for the First-born, certainly did not quite maintain the position acquired by those of the preceding year, to which we have made reference.

Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, the solitary contribution of 1867, was hung so high that it was impossible to form a definite judgment upon it; and we, unfortunately, had no opportunity of seeing it in the painter’s studio, as was the case with several others. From the distance at which we looked at it in the Academy, its I general appearance was favourable: the subject, however, is one I that, to do it ample justice, would test the ability of any artist. Haydon’s version is, perhaps, the best picture painted by him.

With two comparatively unimportant works, — Roses, and The Daily Task, both subjects of eastern origin, — Mr. Gale sent to the Academy last year NAZARETH, engraved [above]. There is no attempt here to make the subject an example of religious Art, strictly so called; it is simply naturalistic, one may call it domestic. The scene is the “home” of the Saviour at Nazareth: the apartment in which he appears with Mary and Joseph is the carpenter’s shop. We may remark that the house, the buildings seen through the open doorway, and the various tools and instruments which make up the accessories, were all sketched from “nature” during the artist’s visit to Nazareth. The figure of Jesus, who is removing a wooden plough from a distant part of the shop, is that of a young man of agreeable but serious aspect: it is drawn in an easy, unaffected manner, yet has dignity. His mother watches his movement with loving eyes, while Joseph is laboriously sawing a piece of timber. The composition is well put together, while our reverence for the sacred character of the chief actor in the scene is in no way compromised bv the familiar manner in which the whole is set forth.

[Drawn by W. J. Allen.] Sick, and in Prison. [Engraved by F. Wentworth.]

SICK, AND IN PRISON, is engraved from a small, but well-painted picture, hung this year in the Academy. The conception of the two figures is excellent, the pose effective and touching, and the heads are really fine studies full of expression. A large composition, The Return of the Prodigal, was exhibited with it. The only comment we have room for is to say that, however acceptable this artist’s smaller works are, this, and other larger canvases we have spoken of, show that he ought not to limit his practice to cabinet-pictures. His works of the last four or five years show such advance in many of the highest qualities that we trust he will persevere in the course on which he has entered. In all he does, he is painstaking and studious; with a good eye for colour, and great refinement of feeling.

We may note that at the commencement of the volunteer movement Mr. Gale joined the "Artists'" corps, in which he now holds a captain’s commission.


D, James. "British Artists: Their Style and Character, with Engraved Illustrations. LXXXIX. — William Gale." The Art-Journal, Vol. 31 (1869). London: Virtue & Co. 373-75. Internet Archive. Contributed by the Getty Research Institute. Web. 4 March 2019.

Created 4 March 2019