The Wiltshire Impressionist
Wilfrid Gabriel de Glehn has often been described as “one of England’s leading Impressionists” due to his ability to capture variations in sunlight and shadow as well as a painterly style and a feel for colour that perfectly captured his subject. He has been highlighted while researching for Creative Wiltshire, a Heritage Lottery Funded project and we discovered that we hold one of his pieces within the county; a portrait of Dr. Edwin Sloper Beaven dated 1939 and held at Dewey Museum in Warminster. (Ref. WAMDM:D4414)
However, while he was known for his portraits and received regular commissions, it is perhaps his landscapes that inform us of the man; often capturing a sense of place with huge accomplishment and care. He worked in oils or watercolours and travelled widely, so his subject matter is hugely varied and genuinely reflects his love of people and places.
In 1891 he was invited to assist in the murals for Boston library by Edwin Austin Abbey and so began his long association with America, leading to his marriage in 1904 to Jane Erin Emmet, cousin of the novelist Henry James. He also began a lifelong friendship with John Singer Sargent and the three often travelled together, painting side by side as they visited wonderful locations such as Venice, Rome, Corfu, Granada, St. Tropez and areas in the south of France along with locations closer to home, such as Hampshire, Wiltshire and Cornwall. Wilfrid and Jane settled in London, in Cheyne Walk, close to Sargent’s studio, and Wilfrid began to establish himself as a portrait painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and other private galleries in the early part of the 20th century.
His painting was interrupted by the First World War when he and his wife worked as orderlies in a French field hospital and this contrast with his earlier pre-war life had an impact on them both. He took time to return to painting after the war but had produced watercolour sketches during his experiences depicting patients resting in the landscape, playing cards and recuperating, and these demonstrate his eye for figures and a wonderful ability to capture a sense of place and nature.
Visits to France became part of the couple’s lifestyle; both had studied in Paris and they regularly returned to the city as well as favouring the area around Chartes, the Seine valley and Provence. Wilfrid’s portraiture work funded these summer trips to Europe and in turn fuelled his interest and love of landscape painting. Both he and Jane travelled with their artist’s tools and regularly set up their easels together to enjoy their painting. A love of the English countryside grew and Cornwall became a firm favourite, as well as Hampshire and the River Avon. A theme of castles brought de Glehn to Wardour Castle in the south of the county, and a visit to Downton led to them renting the rectory at Wilton during the 1920s and 1930s, introducing them both to the Wiltshire countryside. The rectory backed onto Wilton Park which provided de Glehn with more subject matter, and he became fascinated with the Palladian bridge spanning the River Nadder. He also painted Heale, a seventeenth century house owned by a friend and many of these paintings were shown at Wilfrid de Glehn’s exhibition at Knoedlers in 1935.
By 1941 the couple were searching for a new home, having lost Cheyne Walk, London in the Blitz and it was at this point that they bought the Manor House in Stratford Tony where they settled for the remainder of his life while still returning regularly to Provence.
In identifying such an interesting artist and researching his connection to Wiltshire the idea of a purchase began to evolve. Salisbury Museum was keen to represent the work of Wilfrid de Glehn and is the obvious place for one of his landscapes. Searching the art markets via our auction alerts we found a landscape entitled “Stratford Tony, Wiltshire”, painted in oils and with good provenance. There followed a period of assessment and valuation, involving Dendy Easton, one of the experts on the Antiques Roadshow, amongst others and finally we achieved our aim and purchased the painting at auction last year. There is a certain excitement about receiving an item like this from the carrier and after unwrapping we were not disappointed; the painting is beautiful, an impressionistic view of corn stooks and field landscape set amongst the elm trees, which were once so common in our Wiltshire landscape. There is nothing to compare with seeing a painting ‘in the flesh’; you at once connect with the artist and are transported to a captured moment, appreciating the amazing ability to create this emotion inside you with such simple brushstrokes and affinity with colour.
The Manor House at Stratford Tony had beautiful gardens close to the River Ebble and de Glehn often painted ‘en plein air’ (outside). This final period of his life was obviously influenced by his contentment at home with his garden and the countryside nearby and his inspiration was very much stimulated by his surroundings; the work produced at this time showing his great love of landscape. He is a perfect painter to add to our collections as part of this project and we consider this one of our most important additions. You will be able to see it on display at Salisbury Museum next year.
Wilfrid de Glehn died at Stratford Tony in May 1951; he is remembered as a kind and generous man, well known and respected amongst other British painters of the time and without doubt, our very own Wiltshire Impressionist.
Joy Bloomfield, Community History Advisor
The gardens at Stratford Tony are open by appointment through the year and as part of the National Gardens Scheme on selected dates
For more information about the project
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