William Callow, RWS (1812-1908) Through his watercolours, William Callow reinterpreted the approach of Richard Parkes Bonington to highly popular ends, and ensured that the Bonington tradition thrived until late into the nineteenth century.
William Callow was born in Greenwich, Kent, on 28 July 1812, the elder son of a builder and carpenter who encouraged his artistic talents early on. His younger brother, John, would become a marine watercolourist and drawing master. The Callow brothers grew up at the family home in Tottenham Place, off Tottenham Court Road, London.
In 1823, at the age of 11, Callow began to work under the engraver Theodore Fielding, thus entering a period in which he was strongly influenced and aided by the Fielding brothers. Two years later, he was formally articled to Theodore for instruction in watercolour drawing and aquatint engraving; while in that position he was given his first painting lessons by fellow apprentice Charles Bentley, and was further encouraged by Copley Fielding. Then, in 1829, he broke with his apprenticeship by taking up the invitation of Thales Fielding to go to Paris to work for the publisher J F d’Ostervald.
While there, he began to produce contributions to Charles Heath’s Picturesque Annual: Versailles (published a decade later in 1839). He lived and worked in Paris with Newton Fielding until 1830, when the outbreak of revolution forced them to return to England.
By February 1831, Callow had returned to Paris and was associating with Thomas Shotter Boys. He worked in his studio, in rue du Bouloy, and accompanied him on sketching trips. Through him, he found inspiration in the watercolours of Richard Parkes Bonington, who had died in 1828. His early work reinterpreted the approach of Bonington to extremely popular ends. Taking over the studio of Boys, in 1834, he developed a highly profitable practice as a drawing master to members of the French nobility. As a result of exhibiting at the Salon of that year, he was even noticed by King Louis-Philippe who employed him to teach his children, the Duc de Nemours and the Princesse Clémentine.
During the mid 1830s, Callow began a series of long walking and sketching tours, which took him across the Continent and increasingly back to England. In London, in 1838, he was encouraged by John Frederick Lewis to join the Society of Painters in Water Colours and, on submitting some drawings, was promptly elected an associate. (He was elected a full member a decade later, and would act for periods as Secretary and Trustee.)
In 1841, Callow left Paris and set up in London, at 20 Charlotte Street (later Hallam Street). As a drawing master, he again developed a large clientele, which included Lady Beaujolais Berry, Lady Stratford de Redcliffe, Lord Dufferin – and Harriet Anne Smart, whom he married in 1846. At the end of the decade, he began to work in oil as well as watercolour, ambitiously increasing the scale of his works.
In 1854, the Callows moved to Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, and built a large house, named The Firs, while keeping on their London home. At The Firs, Callow continued to work, both as a drawing master and exhibiting artist, almost until his death. He also continued to make Continental tours, his final visit to Italy taking place in 1892.
Following the death of Harriet in 1883, Callow married Mary Louisa Jefferay, a much younger woman who outlived him.
He died in Great Missenden on 20 February 1908, and his autobiography, edited by H M Cundall appeared in the same year. In the year before, his early work had been exhibited at the Leicester Galleries with such success that it encouraged a reassessment of his career.
His studio sale was held at Christie’s on 21 March 1910.
His work is represented in the collections of Eton College, and numerous public collections, including the British Museum, The Courtauld Gallery, Tate and the V&A; Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), Manchester Art Gallery and Southampton Art Gallery; and Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge MA).
Further reading: Marcia Pointon, ‘Callow, William (b Greenwich, nr London, 28 July 1812; d Great Missenden, Bucks, 20 Feb 1908)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 5, page 439; Jan Reynolds, ‘Callow, William (1812-1908)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 9, pages 555-557; Jan Reynolds, William Callow RWS, London: B T Batsford, 1980