THE PASS OF KENMARE (MOLLS GAP), CO. KERRY (circa 1835)
Titled l.r., inscribed verso Purchased direct by me from Mrs Drury / (granddaughter of William Evans)
Watercolour with bodycolour
31.0 x 47.0 cm
By descent to Mrs Cicely Drury;
Wessex Art Gallery, where purchased by the present owner
A large group of Evans' watercolours of Ireland were recently exhibited at the National Gallery of Ireland in 2013. Aidan Dunne, writing for the Irish Times, said that,
"In exploring Galways and Mayo, Evans and a few precursors and contemporaries...were pioneers. Evans seems to have been guided by HD Inglis' account of a journey through the western counties, published in 1834...He is an attentive, scrupulous observer of the texture and atmosphere of the place, conveying a sense of extreme beauty allied with inhospitable desolation." (1)
The present work is unusual as Evans travelled primarily in County Galway and Mayo, rather than County Kerry. He is however recorded as having painted Tralee Bay, Co. Kerry (2), which was exhibited No.45 at the Society of Painters in Watercolours 41st exhibition in 1845.
Mrs Drury was most probably the Cicely Drury who gave a watercolour of Snowden to Eton College's Collection (COLL B SF 003 02).
Evans' father was Samuel Evans, the drawing master at Eton, whom he went on to succeed in 1818. At this time the position was a significant one among the many talented watercolourists of the day and had been held by the esteemed Alexander Cozens in the previous century. His own son was also to succed him in the role. Evans was educated at Eton as a beak's son, and informally trained as an artist under his father, Peter de Wint and William Collins. He lived at Eton throughout his life and became a housemaster in 1845. His relaxed manner and leniency as a housemaster is thought to have compelled not only a number of his earlier pupils to send their sons to his house (still known as 'Evan's') but also to have won him consistent patronage and invitations to sketch on his pupils' estates. Louisa Connor's thorough biography of him records the following:
"There is no doubt that William benefited hugely from his contacts in the school and that the school provided a constant source of patronage. His old tutor, ‘the kindest friend of my life’ Thomas Carter, commissioned the Montem Portrait of his young son Thomas Thellusson in 1817. He was commissioned to paint a lost portrait of Dr Hawtrey when he became Provost, and his small watercolour of Hawtrey’s library in the Lodge is probably connected with this. Head Master Balston, who was a fellow guest of the Duke and Duchess of Athole, owned both Eton and Scottish works. Several fellow members of staff bought exhibition work, above all Edward Coleridge (1800-83) who, besides being an amateur artist, was an avid collector of watercolours, acquiring early pictures by William’s contemporaries John F Lewis and George Cattermole." (3)
Despite this apparently parochial lifestyle, Evans travelled extensively throughout Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the French Riviera. He exhibited both in the town of Eton and in London, latterly with Thomas Griffiths (Turner's 'agent') at his gallery in Waterloo Place.
He was a long-serving member of the Old Watercolour Society and made several close friends through his membership, including the dandyish George Cattermole (famous for his medieval and civil war scenes which were then hugely popular and now less so), Edwin Landseer and John Frederick Lewis. In later life he was involved in a number of the disputes that shook the society and in the administrative tasks which often brought him into conflict with fellow members, notably James Duffield Harding and his old friend Lewis.
(1) Aidan Dunne - A Window on Life in the West before the Famine - The Irish Times, 25.06.2013 (last accessed, 08/01/2019, https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/a-window-on-life-in-the-west-before-the-famine-1.1441194)
(2) The Art Union: Monthly Journal... - June 1st, 1845 (London) - p.107
(3) Louisa M. Connor - Exhibition Catalogue for 'William Evans: Bicentenary Exhibition', Brewhouse Gallery, Eton - 1998