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John William Inchbold (1830-1888)

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John William Inchbold (1830-1888)

A view of Greenwich with the Naval Hospital, London

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John William Inchbold (1830-1888) A view of Greenwich with the Naval Hospital, London pencil and watercolour, heightened with touches of bodycolour and with scratching out 13½ x 20½ in. (34.3 x 52.1 cm.)
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Lot Essay

Very little is recorded about John William Inchbold, a figure who stood on the periphery of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. What there is has been taken from the correspondence of his contemporaries such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and his great friend Algernon Charles Swinburne as well as his obituary written by Frederic George Stephens. Inchbold was an isolated figure who seemed to find difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships, both professional and personal. However, he was a highly significant figure in the context of Victorian landscape painting and was respected as a painter by many contemporaries whose judgement was highly respected including: Sir John Everett Millais and John Ruskin.

Inchbold worked first as a draughtsman for Day & Haghe, studying watercolour painting under Louis Haghe. From a young age he was devoted to the exploration of topography and the effects of atmosphere, particularly the study of clouds. The present watercolour is a notable work in Inchbold's oeuvre and appears to date from his last winter spent in London 1868/69. The soft grey/green palette, broad vista and veiled atmosphere recalls another composition of this period A quiet afternoon on Richmond Hill exhibited in John William Inchbold: Pre-Raphaelite Landscape Artist, Leeds City Art Gallery, 1993, no, 33. During the 1850s Ruskin had viewed Inchbold as the painter who might be capable of fulfilling his vision of the Pre-Raphaelite landscape. However, by the 1860s Inchbold was driving towards his own individual, pioneering and more poetic vision. In a letter to John Brett on the 2nd May 1863, Ruskin reveals the extent to which Inchbold had taken himself out of mainstream artistic theory: 'You, & Inchbold - must both think me very strange & unkind: But I could no more help you than you me - and I saw you were both going for the time- utterly wrong. There was no possibility of talking about it. You had to go wrong; & there's an end; but I couldn't stand by & see it - so kept out of the way till you should find it out for yourselves. Inchbold I believe never will. But you may.'

This view of Greenwich shows the Naval Hospital seen from the south. The site, previously a royal palace, was commissioned by William III as a naval almshouse. Sir Christopher Wren was engaged as surveyor and Nicholas Hawksmoor assisted him. Wren knew that the work would be completed posthumously and so ensured that enough was laid out to be impossible for those that followed to change his design. The main work took place between 1696 and 1712.

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