Thursday, September 23, 2010

William Lionel Wyllie - The Houses of Parliament

Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 49,250 GBP

76.5 by 101.5cm., 30 by 40in.

signed l.r. W.L. Wyllie

oil on canvas

Commissioned in 1902 by Sir John Wilson M.P.

The present work was commissioned by Sir John Wilson, who served as Member of Parliament for Falkirk Burghs from 1895-1906 before being made a Baronet of Airdrie on 27 July 1906.

The painting is very similar to a smaller work of the same title exhibited at the Royal Academy earlier in 1902 (no. 358) and it seems highly likely that Sir John Wilson would have viewed the exhibited version and requested a similar composition. The Academy exhibit also looks downriver towards the East but is painted from the perspective of the south bank; the present work, with its more central perspective through to Westminster Bridge and Lambeth Bridge, suggest it may have been painted from Hungerford Bridge. The barge, being rowed down stream, also appears in the exhibited version.

Wyllie was noted for his honest, unsanitised depictions of the Thames; indeed he celebrated its industry in all its grimy glory. Arguably his best known picture, Toil, Glitter, Grime and Wealth (tate) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1885 and prompted high praise from the critic Harry Burnett,
'The Thames Mr Wyllie paints is the Thames as it is , with all its grime and much of its wonder, all its business and something of its pathos...its minglings of dignity and degradation, its material embodiment of British supremacy...'

These observations are strongly evident in the present picture; the steam from the barges and smoke on the horizon evoke a strong sense of progress and invention. This industry, set beneath the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the flying Union Jack combine to create a powerful but subtle sense of the patriotism of the age.

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