FIGURES IN A CAPRICCIO LANDSCAPE WITH DISTANT HILLS
Variously inscribed in pen & bears inscription in pencil verso
Charcoal & chalk on blue-tinted paper
26 x 33cm
Kelham Hall, Nottinghamshire
The foliage in the upper right of the present work shows clearly Devis' idiosyncratic technique for rendering trees, as outlined by Iolo Williams:
"Devis's chief mannerism lies in his trick of rendering foliage by a series of triple or quadruple loops, rather like bunches of bananas. Sometimes the loops are a little more elongated and less rounded than usual, but it was only rarely that he omitted them entirely from a drawing..." (1)
Anthony Devis was born in Preston, Lancashire, the son of a local councillor and his second wife, a relative of the landed Lister family, and younger half-brother of the portrait painter, Arthur Devis (who was already eighteen when Anthony was born). His initial training is unknown; however, Devis is recorded as working in London at only thirteen in 1742, having accompanied his older brother Arthur on the latter's journey to the capital. By 1762 he was living with his other brother, John, a silversmith and watchmaker.
Devis specialised in topographical works, working in both oil and watercolour, and exhibiting at the Free Society of Artists and the Royal Academy. During his early career he also took on commissions for picture restoration and supplemented his income as a drawing master. His work as a picture-restorer also went hand-in-hand with the work he did copying Old Master works for his clients.
In the early 1770's Devis was among a number of artists commissioned by Josiah Wedgwood to produce views of ‘the ruins, country-houses, parks, gardens and picturesque landscapes of Great Britain’ to decorate the creamware 'Frog' service produced by Wedgwood for the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. Devis' travels around Britain for the project likely led to commissions from rural patrons; but he had already found his works particularly popular among the Northern gentry, as well as Sir William Farrington, George Vernon (1st Baron Vernon), John Trower of Muntham Place, the Duke of Manchester at Kimbolton Castle, John Peploe Birch Esq at Garnston Hall, Herefordshire, Lord Ducie at Woodchester Park and Sir Richard Worsley at Appuldercomb on the Isle of Wight.
There is no record that Devis travelled abroad, and his drawings of foreign views are probably inspired by the work of others. He copied the Italian views of his student William Assheton, who had been on a Grand Tour (though not, as is sometimes believed, in the company of Devis). He settled in Surrey, near Guildford, where he built a distinctive artist's studio and lived for the final three decades of his life. During this time, he was likely kept company by his niece, the daughter of his celebrated half-brother, to whom he left his entire estate (having in turn inherited the same from Arthur previously).
(1) Iolo Williams, Early English Watercolours and Some Cognate Drawings by Artists Born Not Later Than 1785, London (1952), p.42