Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn, PRA, RBA, RI (British, 1858-1941) Summer-time near the Sea

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Lot 100
Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn, PRA, RBA, RI
(British, 1858-1941)
Summer-time near the Sea

Sold for £ 75,000 (US$ 103,069) inc. premium
Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn, PRA, RBA, RI (British, 1858-1941)
Summer-time near the Sea
signed and dated 'S. LLEWELLYN'86.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
72 x 93cm (28 3/8 x 36 5/8in).


  • Exhibited
    London, New English Art Club, 1887, no. 45.

    Pall Mall Gazette 'Extra', 1887, p. 89 (illustrated).
    'New English Art Club', London Daily News, 5 April 1887, p. 2.
    'Art in April', The Magazine of Art, 1887, p. xxv.

    Described by The Magazine of Art as one of the two best landscapes in the New English Art Club exhibition of 1887, William Samuel Henry Llewellyn's Summer-time near the Sea was unusual for its time.1 Successful landscape paintings shown at the Royal Academy in the mid-1880s by the likes of John Everett Millais, Benjamin Williams Leader, John MacWhirter and Peter Graham were grand romantic mountainous affairs, confected in the studio and filled with 'gloamin' and 'mirk'. To paint a stretch of scrub land, in the open air, on a warm summer's day, with a few distant houses and nautical debris, was, in itself, somehow radical.

    Such was the early reputation of the New English that works like this were only to be expected. Now in its second year, the young painters' society had proved controversial, and given that most of its members, like Llewellyn, had completed their training in Paris, it was regarded by some as more 'Anglo-French' than English. There was even a lobby that this mnemonic be included in the club's name.2 What started as a group not exceeding fifty members the year before, was now expanded to eighty, and in the Wentworth Studios of Manresa Road, Chelsea, where Llewellyn worked, meetings were held with a view to going even further with a wholly 'democratic' British 'Salon' thrown open to all potential exhibitors.3 Known as the 'bigger movement', this ambitious proposal, initially by Henry Herbert La Thangue, the guide and mentor of the Chelsea colony, eventually ran out of steam as spring exhibiting season approached in 1887.4

    The expanded New English, where the present canvas was shown, was thus the standard-bearer for the avant-garde and its exhibition that year included John Singer Sargent's remarkable portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife (Crystal Bridges Museum, Arkansas), Theodore Roussel's controversial nude Reading Girl (Tate) and George Clausen's rural Stone Pickers (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne). The other 'best landscape' was the equally unconventional Bow Net, (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) by Thomas F Goodall. Both Goodall and Llewellyn were showing pictures painted in East Anglia and like the Newlyn and Glasgow School painters, were following the rubric of Bastien-Lepage. They had found rural retreats in which to practice the new Naturalism that was emanating from France.

    In the summer of 1886, Llewellyn had gone to the village of Walberswick, one of the cradles of what soon became recognized as British Impressionism. Affectionately known as 'Wobbleswig', its popularity with artists had increased dramatically since it and neighbouring Southwold acquired their own railway stations in 1879. Here, in the summers of the mid-eighties, painters such as Philip Wilson Steer, Walter Osborne, Edward Stott, Blandford Fletcher and Frederick Brown gathered along with one or two Americans.5 Of the group, Llewellyn was particularly close to the etcher, Frank Short, a Walberswick regular, who also rented one of the Chelsea studios, and was well-connected in exhibiting circles. In gratitude for his support, Llewellyn presented Short with his painting of The Goose Girl, of that year (fig. 1).6

    It is certainly the case that in the summer of 1886, while at Walberswick, Llewellyn crossed over to Southwold on the Blyth ferry. A surviving oil sketch reveals the steeply banked coastline with its beached craft. Here one would have found Steer at work, but at this point, the artist saw no need to adopt his comrade's more extreme experiments, and what we have is a fluent plein air study that echoes Constable more than Monet (see lot 100).

    Radicalism as such was reserved for the present more ambitious, Summer-time near the Sea. Llewellyn's style at this time was described by Morley Roberts as having been '... influenced by La Thangue and the French School' from whom he 'imported the square brush method'. While being 'always extremely dextrous in technique'. 'Some', Roberts claimed, '...have said that it [ie the square brush method] is 'smart' ... implying that a picture may be too clever by half. If so, this is mostly due to [Llewellyn's] sturdy and praiseworthy resolve ... to be a master of technique first of all ...'.7 In order to prove Roberts's point we may compare Llewellyn's treatment of the figure in Summer-time near the Sea with La Thangue's 'square brush method' in Study of a Boy in a Black Hat, before a Cornfield (fig. 2).

    As though to confirm his status, Llewellyn, this putative 'master of technique', completed a scrupulously accurate small version of the picture in watercolour (fig. 3), while providing a drawing for illustration in the Pall Mall Gazette 'Extra'.

    There is no sea in Summer-time near the Sea, but its presence off to the right of the picture is inferred by a series rusting anchors that punctuate the middle distance. Similar nautical debris is contained in Walter Osborne's An October Morning, painted on the beach, not far from the present location. On the far side of the river Blyth, just beyond Llewellyn's anchors, is the harbour of neighbouring Southwold, but here, on the south side of the river the land is marshy and falls into swamps that form the flood-plain of the Blyth estuary which Llewellyn's barefoot model surveys. In common with other lads whose future was predestined, the boy wears a white fisherman's sailcloth smock, familiar in the works of Osborne and other Walberswick and Newlyn contemporaries. Even the dilapidated barrow is significant, since similar implements are found in pictures such as John Lavery's On the Loing, An Afternoon Chat.8 It is even tempting to compare the treatment of tufts of grass and foreground weeds in Lavery's work with those of Summer-time observe a comparable spatial structuring.9

    Such elements in themselves, qualify Summer-time near the Sea as a great 'thesis picture' in 1887. They were symbolically, the 'clothing' of plein air Naturalism, and they placed the artist at the centre of the new painting. It was only in the following year, when he toured the Cornish coast that Llewellyn closed in on Steer's more informal subject matter in the equally remarkable Digging for Bait, Skilly (fig. 4) where we find yet another boy clad in a fisherman's smock.

    After Roskilly, Llewellyn made other trips to Cornwall, working at St Ives and Padstow, and in Evening at Padstow 1890 (Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport) he returned to that wistful sense of childhood reverie that was first discovered in the present canvas. He skirted Newlyn, and may have felt that, already a major force in British Art, it was now over-populated with artists.10 He also went north to Whitby where Ernest Dade, one of his other Manresa Road contemporaries worked along with members of the Staithes Group, but by the mid-nineties his London portrait practice claimed precedence, and it was for this he was primarily known in later years. Although he obtained royal approval for his state portrait of Queen Mary, he continued to paint more speculative landscapes and figure subjects, and these were essentially reserved for smaller exhibitions such as that of the Society of Twenty-five Painters. In such pictures we sometimes glimpse that supreme sensitivity which characterises Summer-time by the Sea, and those halcyon sunlit days of 1886 at Walberswick.

    We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

    1 Up until 1888, Samuel Henry William Llewellyn signed his work 'S Llewellyn'. Thereafter he adopted 'William' as his chosen soubriquet. Despite the fact that he became President of the Royal Academy in 1928 – a role he occupied for ten years – surprisingly little is known about Llewellyn's early life. Born in Cirencester, son of a moulder – a skilled tradesman – he broke with his parents to study at the Government Art Training School, South Kensington, before completing his education in Paris in the atelier Julian under Jules Lefèbvre and Gabriel Ferrier. Returning to London in 1884, he rented one of the Trafalgar and Wentworth studios in Manresa Road, Chelsea, along with other Francophile students.
    2 Kenneth McConkey, The New English, A History of the New English Art Club, RA Publications, 2006, p. 29.
    3 Social activities in Manresa Road included the First Carnival Ball, held in February 1887 – the forerunner of the Chelsea Arts Ball. Llewellyn was also a founder member of the Chelsea Arts Club which emanated from the studios in October 1890.
    4 McConkey 2006, pp. 34-6.
    5 Arthur Hoeber and Willard Leroy Metcalf worked at Walberswick in 1884 and 1885 respectively. For Metcalf, see Elizabeth de Veer and Richard Boyle, Sunlight and Shadow, The Life and Art of Willard L Metcalf, (Abbeville Press, New York, 1987, pp. 192-4. For a general survey, see Richard Scott, Artists at Walberswick, East Anglian Interludes 1880-2000, Art Dictionaries Ltd., Bristol, 2002, pp. 26-42; idem, The Walberswick Enigma, 1994 (exhibition catalogue, Ipswich Borough Council).
    6 Short's etching of the pier illustrates the heavy wooden staithes used for wharf construction on the east coast of England. Llewellyn's Goose Girl, 1887 (fig. 1), and dedicated 'To my friend F short', may represent Whin Hill, Southwold.
    7 Morley Roberts, 'A Colony of Artists', Scottish Art Review, vol 2, 1889, p. 74. For a fuller description of 'square brush' painting see McConkey 2006, p. 32.
    8 Boys similarly clad may also be found in the paintings of Broads-men by Henry Herbert La Thangue.
    9 It is likely that Llewellyn was very familiar with the work of Osborne and La Thangue. However he is unlikely to have seen Lavery's On the Loing ... other than through photographs in 1886, since it was only exhibited in Glasgow and Paisley by this time.
    10 At the same time, a superb, but unidentified Landscape c. 1889 (National Museum of Wales) may indicate a visit to Upper Swell in the Cotswolds, since it closely resembles later works at this location by Alfred East.
Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn, PRA, RBA, RI (British, 1858-1941) Summer-time near the Sea
Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn, PRA, RBA, RI (British, 1858-1941) Summer-time near the Sea
Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn, PRA, RBA, RI (British, 1858-1941) Summer-time near the Sea
Sir William Samuel Henry Llewellyn, PRA, RBA, RI (British, 1858-1941) Summer-time near the Sea
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