A VIEW OF THE FORUM, ROME
Oil on thick paper card laid to board
36 x 53.5 cm
The main features of the famous forum that can be seen from this perspective are the Arch of Septimius Severinus, the Palazzo Senatorio in the background with its distinctive campanile, the Temple of Vespasian and Titus and the Tabularium.
Warren is a surprisingly little-known and mysterious artist. His work was first exhibited at the British Institution between 1865-1867. During this time, he lived in Peckham, South-East London, and he painted a number of local scenes and views of London in these years. His known works are almost entirely oil 'sketches', and most of them on a small scale. His output was primarily in the 1860’s and 1870’s, when he painted his continental travels to Italy, Sardinia, Corsica and France. His first recorded exhibition was in 1869 at the German Gallery, New Bond Street, and included views from several of his tours.
Warren also painted views of England and Ireland, including Dorset, Gravesend and Cornwall (several of these are in the Russell-Coates, Bournemouth and the Brighton & Hove Museums). He travelled to Spain and North Africa in 1870 and exhibited 130 'sketches' the following year at a temporary gallery in 12 Compton Street. A trip to Venice and Cyprus between 1877-1878 yielded another exhibition in 1880 at the same space. The majority of his extant British views were discovered at auction in the 1990's in a folio, and were exhibited by James Mackinnon and Martyn Gregory in 1995. Most recently, a folio of copies of his own works by Warren was sold at Bonham's, Knowle, 15.11.2011, Lot 42 - this contained twenty two oil on card copies of the 202 views of Italy Warren painted in 1877. The present work could be an original from that series (though it could also date from the aforementioned 1869 series), as the artist's copies were smaller, measuring 27.5 x 38 cm.
Warren most likely had a private income as he is known to have been a serious collector of antiquities, decorative works of art, miniatures, engravings and paintings. These were sold over the course of a four-day auction at Christie’s in 1886, where the catalogue listed his address as 21 Suffolk Street, Pall Mall. One of his miniatures, then identified as depicting Handel, is now in the Metropolitan Museum collection in New York (Acc. No. 15.43.287). During the auction, his Mediterranean views commanded prices as high as 50 guineas. Some of these were collaborative pieces between Warren and James Holland and Alfred Vickers. His collection also included Simeon Solomon’s Mystery of Faith. Intriguingly, the catalogue stated that the auction was to raise funds for Warren who was in ill-health to travel abroad for his recovery, but records show that he was to end his days in Bristol (one record states that he died in Downham Market, Norfolk) having fallen on hard times.
His posthumous reputation suffered after a court case that – quite unjustly – sought to demonstrate that the art dealer Alfred Jones had misrepresented Warren’s work as that of Constable. The then director of the National Portrait Gallery was called as a witness and he stated that the two artists’ styles were quite distinct: the damage appears to have been done sadly, with Warren too unwell to represent himself, and his reputation languished for many years. Graham Reynolds later published an article on the matter in Apollo magazine (1).
Warren’s oil sketches were ‘rediscovered’ by Paul Wallraf, the collector, academic and connoisseur. John Gere, another such academic collector (primarily of 16th Century Italian Drawings), purchased Warren’s View of the Crystal Palace from Penge in 1954 and it is now on long-term loan to the National Gallery in London. Although sadly no longer demonstrable, it is highly likely that this was the work by Warren which Gere is known to have bought from the newly opened Hazlitt Gallery. This is mentioned briefly in Gere's awe-inspring obituary in The Burlington (2). Gere owned seven works by Warren, and they formed part of his fascinating collection of plein-air European oil sketches shown at the National Gallery exhibition A Brush With Nature (1999) (3). Among Gere's circle of collector friends, another important figure who owned two sketches by Warren was Sir Jack Baer, the Director of Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox who likely sold Gere that first oil sketch in 1954.
A large body of Warren's works was gifted to the Victoria Art Museum, Bath, and a further work to the V&A by the Irish art dealer Alfred Jones of Bath. Jones was responsible for many donations of diverse objects (ranging from paintings and sculpture to a significant collection of lichen!) and pictures to Museums across Britain in the early 20th century.
Other sketches by W.W. Warren are in various public collections including the V&A and British Museum.
(1) Graham Reynolds - Auctioneers, Dealers, Constables & Crooks: A Vindication of William White Warren - Apollo No.132 (June 1992) - pp.368, 372, No.7
(2) Nicholas Penny- John Gere (1921-95) - The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 137, No. 1106 (May, 1995) - p.320
(3) For a brief discussion of Gere's 'discovery' of Warren, see David Blayney Brown - Landscape Oil Sketches: London - The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 141, No. 1158 (Sep., 1999) - pp.556-558
* William White Warren (c.1832-1911): an exhibition of oil sketches, Martyn Gregory, London, 1995