Bernard Walter Evans, RBA RI (1843-1922) Bernard Walter Evans painted landscapes in oil and watercolour, and most frequently depicted scenes of the Midlands and North Wales. He also explored Continental landscapes throughout his career, accomplishing a synthesis of atmosphere and distance in his works. Bernard Walter Evans was born in Wolverhampton (then in Staffordshire) on 26 December 1843, the eldest of ten children of Walter Swift Evans, a master church furniture maker and engraver, and his wife, Sophia (née Spilsbury). Evans was a cousin of the author, Mary Ann Evans, who published as George Eliot.
Walter Evans was associated with Augustus Pugin, the leading figure in the revival of Gothic architecture and, in 1846, became one of his assistants for the decoration of the Houses of Parliament. It is therefore perhaps through the influence of his father that Bernard began his obsession with art and its practice.
In 1851, Evans and his family were living at 2 Burbury Street, Aston, Warwickshire. However, by 1861, they had moved to 34 Bath Street, Birmingham.
It was in Birmingham that Evans, aged seven, began to study under the direction of Samuel Lines, who was an early member of the Birmingham school of landscape painters. He also studied under Edward Watson at his School of Landscape Art, and whilst there, received great encouragement from his master as well as Frederick Henshaw, who strongly recommended that he follow the arts.
Evans first exhibited at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 1864, the year that he moved to London. It has been said that Evans was assistant to the Scottish watercolourist, William Wallis, in the capital in 1869. He would exhibit his works at the Royal Academy between 1870 and 1886, and at the Society of British Artists from 1871, showing there numerous times throughout his career; frequent among his subjects are those depicting Cannock Chase, an area of outstanding natural beauty in Staffordshire. Evans said that he considered weather the expression of landscape, and his great aim was to communicate the true feeling of his subject. he was elected RBA in 1880 and the RI by 1887.
Evans married Mary Ann Eliza Hollyer at St Luke’s, Kentish Town, on 2 August 1870. She was the daughter of Samuel Hollyer, an engraver, and sister to Frederick Hollyer, a pioneer in the use of photography for the reproduction of works of art. By 1881, Bernard and Mary were living at 30 Hungerford Road, Islington, along with his father-in-law, Samuel, and a nephew, also named Bernard.
While living in London in 1880, Evans became the driving force and key promoter behind the creation of the City of London Society of Artists. Although the Society was short lived due to the lack of a permanent exhibition space, it was the forerunner of the annual Guildhall Art exhibition in London. In 1881, he was elected to the Savage Club, which encouraged members of the creative professions. He was also a member of the Society of Artists (known from 1898 as the London Sketching Club), which was based at Langham Chambers.
Evans and his wife settled in Harrogate in the late 1880s, and continued to live there at 20 Park Parade, until 1911. In 1891, they were both lodging or possibly holidaying at 11 Hanover Square in Leeds, West Yorkshire. While in Harrogate, Evans made a thorough exploration of its landscape and architecture. As explained in a contemporary evaluation of his work, ‘during the last four years Mr Evans has been busy chiefly with the Yorkshire Abbeys, residing for the most part at Harrogate. He has painted five of them, Rievaulx, Whitby, Bolton, Fountains, and Byland; but as he intends to paint the whole, he has yet twenty-one to do, a goodly store’ (‘With Palette and Brush’, Tinsley’s Magazine, July 1890, page 185).
While living in Yorkshire, Bernard and Mary Evans spent several winters of the 1890s on the French Riviera. This is evidenced by the works that Evans produced at that time, including landscapes of Cannes and Grasse. Perhaps as a result of these travels, he received a commendation in 1900 at the exposition Universelle in Paris. It was known that Evans was part of the ‘old school of English Landscapists, and appears to have taken such men as Turner, Cox, de Wint, and Fielding as his masters’ (op cit, page 186). however, having learned from these fine artists, he found nature to be his true inspiration, and expressed his impressions in his own unique way. his work was extremely sought after, and it was said that there were rarely any pictures in his studio, as they were bought as quickly as they were painted.
Bernard Walter Evans died at the home of his niece in Brentford, London, on 26 February 1922. He was buried in Harlow Hill, Harrogate, with his wife, Mary Ann, who had died in 1902. Several of his siblings also became artists, or worked in the art world during the late 1800s and early 1900s. His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the V&A; and Blackburn Art Gallery, Cartwright Hall (Bradford), The Laing Art Gallery (Newcastle) and The Mercer Art Gallery (Harrogate).
The biography of Bernard Walter Evans is written by Pascale Oakley.