Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection


97 Portrait of Henry Walter 1829

Pencil heightened with white tempera on wove paper prepared with gypsum and clay-based filler with glue medium, 17.8 x 12.4 (7 x 4 7/8)
Inscribed 'Dec.r 2nd 1829. GR' in pencil (added later) bottom right 'H Walter' and in pencil bottom left 'died May 23.1849 | at Torquay.' and on the back in ink 'drawn from Henry Walter | by Geo Richmond | decr. 2. 1829.' and 'He died & was buried at Torquay | died Monday 5 [deleted]23d of May 1849. I was present, | at his funeral on Sunday the 29th | His age I never knew exactly'


George Richmond and Henry Walter belonged to the group of seven young men, five of them artists, known as 'The Ancients', who, with Samuel Palmer at their head, gathered around the artist and poet William Blake soon after Palmer first met him in October 1824. The rough, almost experimental nature of the gesso-like ground on which this portrait is drawn owes a clear debt to Blake and his 'fresco' painting technique with which Richmond had already experimented - notably in his The Creation of Light of 1826 which is in the Tate Gallery (T04164).

Along with Edward Calvert (1799-1883), another of 'The Ancients', Walter was one of Palmer's earliest friends. He was clearly highly regarded by both Palmer and Richmond. In his correspondence with members of his circle Palmer frequently asks them to send his love to Walter and in 1839 wrote that Walter 'is a most excellent person ... his principles are most excellent' (Lister 1974A, vol.1, p.269). Richmond noted on an 1835 portrait of Palmer by Walter (British Museum) that Walters's few works 'are all marked by high artistic qualities and fine sentiment'. None the less, Walter was an unlikely member of 'The Ancients': he was older than the others (he was probably born about 1786) and as a drawing master who had produced a number of lithographic drawing manuals in the 1820s his artistic background and his art were conventional. However, the evidence from these manuals and from the titles of some of the works he exhibited in the 1820s indicates a close study of the pastoral which approached 'The Ancients' response to the landscape of Shoreham in Kent where they produced their best work, and which in its keenness of observation at least had something in common with Palmer's and his colleagues' intensely spiritual way of viewing of landscape.

Richmond, who was a brilliant draughtsman, went on to become one of the finest portrait painters of his day, and during the late 1820s when 'The Ancients' were closest he seems quite naturally to have become unofficial portraitist to the group. Apart from this drawing there is another likeness by Richmond of Walter - a half-length of him seated, dated 28 December 1827 (Lister 1974B, pl.12); in July 1827 he had begun a miniature of Welby Sherman (Lister 1981, p.171) and in February 1828, he drew Samuel Palmer (repr. G. Grigson, Horizon, vol.13, 1946, p.312) and then also in 1828 Palmer 'assuming a character' (Grigson 1947, pl.3); in May 1828 Sherman again, sleeping 'as he may be seen after dinner' (Cleveland Museum; repr. Lister 1981, pl.7); in March 1829 Frederick Tatham (Commander 1957, no.131); and the same year a miniature of Palmer (National Portrait Gallery). On the back of T08271 there is a slight pencil drawing of a woman wearing a hat in half-length profile.

Robin Hamlyn

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.228 no.97, reproduced in colour p.229