Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection


58 Tenby ?1803

Pencil, pen and brown ink, and pink, grey and brown washes on laid paper 21 x 24.8 (18 1/4 x 9 3/4); artist's washline border 26.2 x 30. 3 (10 1/4 x 11 7/8)
Inscribed in pen and brown ink in artist's washline border lower left 'Tenby'


According to the diarist Joseph Farington, the pupils of whom the drawing master John 'Baptist' Malchair was most proud were Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827) and Heneage Finch, later Fourth Earl of Aylesford. Indeed, Aylesford is usually recognised as the single most talented member of the 'Oxford School', his work being 'infinitely more accomplished' (Opp? 1943, p.197) than that of his teacher.

It was whilst an undergraduate at Oxford between 1767 and 1771 that Aylesford received tuition from Malchair, years when the Oxford School was in its heyday. 'Natural objects have, strictely speaking, no outline', Malchair was later to write in his Observations on Landskipp drawing with Many and Various Examples Intended for the use of beginners, 1791 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford); and, indeed, Aylesford's early drawings are exercises in the sort of tonal sketching from nature that Malchair is known to have recommended to his pupils. However, under the influence of other artists such as Piranesi and especially of Rembrandt, Aylesford later developed a more personal language of drawing, in which grey, brown, pink or, perhaps, red-brick washes would be applied over slight pencil underdrawing, and then outlines added in ink to highlight and particularise form. In 1809 Farington recorded in his diary that Beaumont had seen some of Aylesford's recent drawings, describing them as 'studies from nature but executed in the stile of Rembrant' (Diary, 13 June 1809, vol.9, p.3486) - a description one could apply to the large majority of Aylesford's mature drawings.

Aylesford had succeeded to the title in 1777, and despite obtaining a series of Appointments which required his regular attendance at Court, remained a keen amateur artist throughout his life, even exhibiting at the Royal Academy (in an honorary capacity) in the 1780s. His drawings are rarely dated, but like this view of Tenby many are inscribed with their titles, often in the artist's own pale pink washline border. Three other views of Tenby by Aylesford are in the British Museum, and there is a fourth in a private collection. The British Museum also has a study by Aylesford of a bathing woman at Tenby, Margaret Davies, aged seventy-five, dated 1803, which may provide a clue to the dating of all these Tenby drawings, although he is known to have made frequent tours to Wales. Aylesford's drawing style was closely imitated by other members of his family, with the result that his work can be difficult to distinguish from theirs.

As well as a talented draughtsman, Aylesford was also an accomplished amateur architect and a keen collector, forming what is reputed to have been an unequalled collection of Rembrandt's prints. Rembrandt's influence is particularly pronounced in Aylesford's own etchings, a full catalogue of which was published by Paul Opp? in 1924.

Anne Lyles

Published in:
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.152 no.58, reproduced in colour p.153