WILLIAM LIONEL WYLLIE
William Lionel Wyllie is regarded as one of Britain's premier marine artists of the later Victorian and early twentieth-century era. Highly proficient as a painter in both oil and watercolour, he is known for highly atmospheric etchings of vessels, big and small, in the many harbours and waterways around the British Isles and beyond.
Wyllie specialised in painting marine subjects in watercolour and oil and he was also an etcher and dry point artist of the finest quality. His watercolours and etchings display a deftness of touch and a rare ability to capture brilliantly the flickering of light upon moving water.
Wyllie was an enthusiastic student of the sea and a keen sailor, a passion reflected in the accuracy with which he depicted the various vessels in his work, be they long retired men-of-war from the age of Nelson, Thames barges, or the warships of Jellicoe's Grand Fleet. As a young man Wyllie spent some time living on the Thames in a barge that he converted into a floating studio and his mesmerising depictions of the Thames illustrate the busy waters at the peak of its mercantile grime and grandeur teeming with boats and enveloped in the atmospheric London smog.
Wyllie was educated at the Royal Academy School of Art and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and Royal Institute throughout his life. In 1869 he won the Turin Medal for painting. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1889 and Royal Academician in 1909. In 1900, he was awarded the Silver Medal at the Academy’s Summer Exhibition.
His most notable commission came in 1930, the year before his death, for a 42 foot long panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar, where it still hangs in the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth. With typical thoroughness, Wyllie sought to make the painting as accurate as possible. Friends read through log books to identify the relative positions of the ships; the Navigation School was consulted to determine the correct position of the sun. Wyllie even took a cruise off Cape Trafalgar itself to study the colour of the sea and the sky. The painting took him nine months to complete, and was formally opened by King George V.
Wyllie wrote and illustrated many books on art and had his works illustrated in many publications. Wyllie’s paintings, watercolours and etchings can be found in numerous museums around the world, including the Tate, London and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich which holds a vast collection of this great artists work.