William Lionel Wyllie, RA RBA RE RI NEAC (1851-1931) The leading British marine artist of the late nineteenth century, William Lionel Wyllie captured the sea and shipping in a wide range of images from fresh watercolours of Northern France through etchings of the Thames to large- scale canvases of historically significant events.
William Lionel Wyllie was born in London on 5 July 1851, son of the painter William Morrison Wyllie. As a child, he lived at 67 Albany Street, close to Regent’s Park, and spent summers at Wimereux, on the French coast, where he began to sketch, encouraged by his father and his half-brother, Lionel Percy Smythe. He studied art at the Heatherley School of Fine Art (1865) and at the Royal Academy Schools (1866-69), where he won the Turner Medal in his final year. He also made a study of the history of shipbuilding to help him with his paintings. His notable influences include Henry Moore, Whistler and Turner, of whom he later wrote a study (1905).
Wyllie worked initially as a marine illustrator for The Graphic (1870-90), and from 1883 produced etchings for Robert Dunthorne of the Rembrandt Gallery.
In 1884, he published Tidal Thames, the first of a number of books that he both wrote and illustrated. Exhibiting at such leading London venues as the Royal Academy, he had five solo shows at the Fine Art Society (from 1883). He was elected to the Society of British Artists (1875); the New English Art Club (1887); the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (1882, resigning in 1884, but being re-elected in 1917); a Royal Academician (ARA 1889, RA 1907); to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (ARE 1903, RE 1904).
In 1884, Wyllie moved to Gillingham House, near Chatham, settling shortly after at Hoo St Werburgh. He then formed a close association with the Royal Navy, which he sealed, in 1907, on moving to Portsmouth, where he lived in the Tower House. He was Marine Painter to the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, and did much work, including posters, for the Orient Company, White Star Line and Union Castle Line. Often sailing in the barge Ladybird and in yachts, he made painting trips to Holland and Northern France. In 1917 he painted an aerial view of the Battle of Bourlon Wood, for which Air Marshal Trenchard sent maps and aerial photographs. Between 1924 and 1930 he worked on a Panorama of Trafalgar for the Victory Museum, Portsmouth. He died in London on 6 April 1931.
His work is represented in the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and the Ministry of Defence Art Collection, and numerous public collections, including the Guildhall Art Gallery, the Imperial War Museum and the National Maritime Museum; and the National Museum of the Royal Navy (Portsmouth), Portsmouth Museums and Records Service and the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum.
Further reading Stephen Deuchar, ‘Wyllie, W(illiam) L(ionel) (b London, 6 July 1851; d London, 6 April 1931)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 33, page 452; H B Grimsditch, rev Roger Quarm, ‘Wyllie, William Lionel (1851-1931)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 60, pages 654-655
Chris Beetles is the publisher of the definitive biography of W L Wyllie entitled W L Wyllie: Marine Artist, 1851-1931, by Roger Quarm, former curator of pictures at the National Maritime Museum, and John Wyllie, the artist’s grandson.