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Benjamin Walter Spiers (1845-1894)

Benjamin Walter Spiers (1845-1894)

Benjamin Walter Spiers packed every corner of his still life watercolours with objects which test a skill for mimetic detail and reveal an antiquarian turn of mind. Some of his compostitions actually show the interiors of his favourite antique shops in Wardour Street, in London’s Soho, while one of his largest pieces may even depict a room in his own Bayswater home. Certainly the frequency with which he reused objects suggests that he owned them or could access them quickly and regularly.

Spiers painted in contrary to the type of still life recently established by William Henry Hunt, commended by John Ruskin, in which nature is represented modestly, and in miniature, by a bird’s nest, a mossy bank and a few nuts, fruits or flowers. Spiers may stand as the leading Victorian exponent of another, much more established, tradition for displaying accumulated man-made collections of battered, mismatched objects often seem to undermine the usual intention of such displays to confirm the wealth of conspicuous consumers. They concentrate not on monetary worth, but on associative value, a quality perhaps best conveyed by books.

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