EASTERN FIGURES IN AN EXTENSIVE LANDSCAPE - POSSIBLY A BIBLICAL SUBJECT
Signed l.l. WMuller
Watercolour & gouache heightened with bodycolour, with gum arabic
26 x 44 cm
In the eatly 1840's, Muller met regularly with a 'dissenting clergyman', the 'Rev. Mr. J...n' [possibly Rev. J.B. Owen, a collector of his work], who would read the Bible out lout to the artist, especially the Book of Job. As a result of these meetings, Muller produced five biblical subjects, one of which was the Pharisee & the Publican (which depicted the clergyman himself as the Pharisee), and the present work may be one of these (perhaps Cain & Abel) (1). Biblical subjects from these latter years of the artist's life, apart from the aforementioned, included Ishmael & Hagar (1841), last sold at Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury, Lot 12.09.2017, Lot 410; Moses commanding Darkness over the Land of Egypt (1843) and its corresponding depiction of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
William Muller was born in Bristol, the son of J.S. Muller, a Prussian from Danzig who served as the curator of the Bristol Museum. Muller first studied painting under James Baker Pyne, having demonstrated to his father that he showed considerable artistic promise. His early works mainly depict the landscapes of Gloucestershire and Wales, and are indebted to Claude, van Ruysdael and the classical landscape artists of more than a century before.
He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1833, and followed this with a tour the following year through France, Switzerland and Italy. In 1838, Muller made his first journey to Greece, visiting Athens, and travelled onwards to Alexandria and Cairo. It was this journey that arguably informed his subjects and style for the remainder of his career: Muller excelled as a topographical draughtsman and his depictions of daily life in Egypt and Greece met with considerable acclaim back in Britain.
In 1840, Muller made a second trip to France, and published a series of twenty five lithographs of the sketches from his visit which focused on Renaissance architecture, titled The Age of Francis I of France.
In 1843, Muller journeyed in the company of Charles Fellows and his own pupil Harry John Johnson to Lycia, accompanying the government expedition which Fellows was leading. he spent three months sketching the landscape and people of Xanthus, Pinara and Tlos, producing hundreds of watercolours and numerous oils. Muller died shortly thereafter, and his work has remained sought-after since this premature death. He worked mainly in watercolour and bodycolour, though he also painted often in oils.
(1) Nathaniel Neal Solly, Memoir of the life of William James Müller : a native of Bristol, landscape and figure painter : with original letters and an account of his travels and of his principal works, London (1875), pp.159-161