William Lionel Wyllie was born in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition. His artistry is inherited from his father, who is himself a painter of ability, whilst other relations are known in the world of art and often represented in the exhibitions. This being so, it seemed but natural that he should be an artist too; and as early as possible he was sent to study at Heatherly's, otherwise known as Leigh's School of Art, in Newman Street. In the spring of 1866 he entered the schools of the Royal Academy, and two years later exhibited his first picture, Dover Castle, which was hung at highest possible point in the Old Academy in Trafalgar Square. In 1869 he was more successful, getting Outward Bound placed just above the line in the first exhibition at Burlington House; whilst in the autumn of the same year he carried off the Turner Gold Medal. . . .
Our River . . . presents, with much fidelity and feeling, a scene below bridge at early morning, such as few but artists of Mr. Wyllie's stamp, and the people of the river and the docks, ever see. The genuine London fog we all know, unfortunately; but the early morning fog of the Thames below bridge is to most of us a raw mysterious dream. Here it is, however, even as in life, with its copper-coloured sun on the horizon, and ghostly clam and drift. In the foreground disorderly barges blundering out of dock; further off a tall ship gliding to her resting-place, her sailors on the yards furling the canvas for a spell in the greatest port in the world. One of the best things that Mr. Wyllie has done, this picture greatly enhanced his reputation. It takes a leading place in the collection of the South Australian Institute, for which it was bought by the Government of New South Wales . . . Last year, Toil, Glitter, Grime, and Wealth on a Flowing Tide, was the best water-piece in the Academy, and is one of the best things in the Chantrey Collection, for which it was bought. . . .
One of the justest criticisms in Modern Painters is that in which Mr. Ruskin says that efforts to express the sea “end in failure with all but the most powerful men,” and that even with those few “a partial success must be considered worthy of the highest praise.” That Mr. Wyllie has achieved the “partial success” meant here is pretty certain. He can assuredly suggest, with force and understanding and feeling, that “low, broad heaving of the whole ocean, like the lifting of its bosom by deep-drawn breath;” he is in some sort master of the contrasts and conflicts between surface waves and the under- strength of the invincible ocean roll; and he can draw with singular skill a certain heavy, lumpy, storm-wave. In a considerable degree this wave- drawing is demonstrated in The Herring Fishery in which the curling crest, and the shadow of it thrown by the moonlight on the body of the wave, are particularly good. — Harry V. Barnett (1884)
Paintings with images on this site
Barnett, Harry V. “By River and Sea.” Magazine of Art 7 (December 1883-November 1884): 309-15. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of Toronto Library. Web. 13 November 2014.
Last modified 13 November 2014