Philip Wilson Steer

The Swiss Alps at the Earl’s Court Exhibition

1887

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 641 x 762 mm
frame: 685 x 850 x 55 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1942
Reference
N05375

Display caption

The Earl’s Court Exhibition of 1887 was the first of four, devoted in turn to America, Italy, France and Germany. The ‘Alps’ were the painted backdrop to the display about America which owed much of its success to Colonel Cody’s (‘Buffalo Bill’) Wild West Show. Steer’s use of sombre colours and decorative surface pattern echoes the work of Whistler and Japanese prints. In the following year he began to adopt the style and technique of the French impressionists, and painted a series of beach scenes in luminous colours.

Gallery label, November 2016

Catalogue entry

N05375 THE SWISS ALPS AT THE EARLS COURT EXHIBITION 1887

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 25 1/4×30 (64×76).
Purchased from Christie's (Knapping Fund) 1942.
Coll: Steer Sale, Christie's, 16 July 1942 (135), bt. Nicholson for the Tate Gallery.
Exh: National Gallery, June–August 1943 (87).
Lit: MacColl, 1945, pp.106, 190; John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters: Sickert to Smith, 1952, pp.64–5.
Repr: Ironside, 1943, pl.2.

Painted in 1887. The Earls Court Exhibition of 1887 was the first of four held there, one each being devoted to America, Italy, France and Germany in that order. The American exhibition owed much of its success to the appearance of Colonel Cody's (‘Buffalo Bill’) Wild West Show. In his card-index Collins Baker describes the picture thus: ‘Figures walking across foreground, lanterns festooned above; peaks of the switchback railway Alp scenery.’ This seems to clear up the apparent incongruity of Swiss alpine scenery appearing in an exhibition devoted to America. A fun fair existed at Earls Court for many years, and the famous Big Wheel at the Prater, Vienna, came originally from Earls Court in 1906.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II