Exploring British watercolours within August Fine Art

By the late 19th Century, British watercolours had shifted from the delicate drawings of a draughtsman to emotive and personal expressions of an artist’s response to nature. The artists, too, were increasingly ambitious, with their compositions on paper now competing with the previously preferred “master works” on canvas.

Our August Fine Art auction presents works by three revered British watercolourists of the time.


Lot 39
WALTER FOLLEN BISHOP (British, 1856-1936)
In the Heart of the Forest
watercolour on paper
90 x 70cm


Walter Follen Bishop worked in the traditional landscape painting style of Liverpool, with a focus on woodland scenes. Painting predominantly in the time of John Ruskin, Bishop would have been familiar with his writings and of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His watercolours adhere to the Pre-Raphaelite commitment to naturalism, and his landscapes are examples of the realism prized in Ruskinian principles. Bishop’s attention to the play of light on leaves and ground is particularly masterful. He is able to provide meticulous detail whilst also revealing his intimacy with the landscape. These factors cemented Bishop as one of the most respected watercolourists of his day, commanding great respect amongst his artistic peers.

In the Heart of the Forest, lot 39 in our August 2021 auction, is a fine example of this attention to light and its interplay with the autumn leaves blanketing the foreground. Bishop maintains the integrity of the landscape with his careful execution of the brush and attention to colour. So, too, does he bring forth the atmospheric qualities of the landscape with a grand Romanticism.


Lot 38
HAROLD SWANWICK (British, 1866-1929)
watercolour on paper
60 x 105.5cm


Harold Swanwick first studied in Liverpool and then at the well respected Slade in the mid-1880s, where students received focused training as figural draughtsmen. It was after his further studies in France that Swanwick turned his attention to genre painting. Genre painting refers to a realistic style which focuses on the depiction of everyday people and intimate scenes of daily life. This style could also lend itself to Romanticism, with subjects and scenes being idealised.

Swanwick frequently painted in Northern Wales, Isle of Man, Southern Europe, and Northern Africa. His beautiful watercolour, Philae, lot 38 in our August 2021 auction, depicts three males tending to a fire on the island of Philae, located on the River Nile in Egypt. Orientalist art was highly prevalent within genre painting of the time, with artists more commonly travelling to the East in search of inspiration. Swanwick depicts a scene of quiet domesticity here – the waters are perfectly still, with a pure golden light reflecting and illuminating the rocky landscape and historic ruins of the island. The three figures are quietly going about their everyday life, captured in untainted privacy by Swanwick.


Lot 43
HELEN ALLINGHAM (British, 1848-1926)
watercolour and scraping out on paper
32 x 26cm


Helen Allingham grew up in Derbyshire, the grand daughter and niece of artists, Sarah Smith Herford and Laura Herford. She studied at the Birmingham School of Design, Royal Female School of Art in London, the Royal Academy Schools and the Slade School of Art.

In 1874 she married Irish poet William Allingham, and after their move to Surrey she refined her practice to watercolours. Allingham was particularly inspired by the Surrey countryside, depicting its beautiful and idyllic landscape with timber framed cottages in many of her watercolours. Her representations of idealised rural life were incredibly popular with the general public, and her execution in the medium of watercolour, especially of country gardens and cottages, was refined with delicate precision.

Our August 2021 auction presents two such watercolours by Allingham, Near Brook, Witley, Surrey c.1913 (lot 42), and Polly (lot 43). Both watercolours illustrate a typical country woman with washing basket in hand, in a scene of pure domesticity not forgetting Allingham’s penchant for the idealised country landscape. The flowers are perfectly in bloom and spring chickens roam the lush green ground.

In 1875 she was elected an associate of the Royal Watercolour Society, after which she was made a full member in 1890 as soon as women were permitted to hold this rank. She was the first female artist to be elected to such a position.

Olivia Fuller, Head of Art

Banner Image (detail): Lot 42 HELEN ALLINGHAM (British, 1848-1926) Near Brook, Witley, Surrey c.1913, watercolour and scraping out on paper, 28 x 17.5cm | $2,500-3,500

August 2021