Artist biography

English painter, writer and collector. He specialised in portraits of literary figures and scenes from the lives of past writers. His first great success was the Death of Chatterton (London, Tate). He depicted the poet dead in his London garret, the floor strewn with torn fragments of manuscript and, tellingly, an empty phial near his hand. The painting was universally praised. Although Wallis was only loosely connected with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, his method and style in Chatterton reveal the importance of that connection: the vibrant colours and careful build-up of symbolic detail are typical Pre-Raphaelite concerns.

Wallis's next success came in 1858 with the exhibition at the Royal Academy of The Stonebreaker (Birmingham, Mus. & A.G.). Its theme was the human cost of hard labour and poverty. It showed a dead stone-breaker slumped by the roadside in a symbolically twilit landscape. Although Wallis was not the first to portray such hardships, his painting attracted much attention through its combination of shocking realism and glorious sunset.

He travelled widely in Europe and the Near East; many of his later paintings show scenes or events apparently witnessed during the course of his travels. In late life he made less impact as a painter than he did as an authority on Italian and oriental ceramics, about which during the last two decades of his life he wrote a number of books and articles, many of them illustrated by his own drawings.

Bibliography
A. van de Put: ‘Henry Wallis, 1830–1916', Faenza, v (1917), pp. 33–8
The Pre-Raphaelites (exh. cat., ed. L. Parris; London, Tate, 1984)
J. Treuherz: Hard Times: Social Realism in Victorian Art (London, 1987), pp. 36–39
Ceramic Art of the Renaissance (exh. cat., ed. T. Wilson; London, BM, 1987)

JENNY ELKAN

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