WILLIAM WHITE WARREN (1829-1911)
A VIEW OF THE DOGANA & SANTA MARIA DELLA SALUTE, FROM THE MOLO (VENICE)
Oil on paper
28 x 41.5 cm
Private Collection, Shropshire
Warren made his first and only journey to Venice between 1877-1878, though more than a dozen extant works from this period have appeared at auction and with various London-based dealers in recent decades: further Venetian subjects by the artist can be found in the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, and have been sold previously by Martyn Gregory Fine Art and James Mackinnon Fine Art. Both this and the following painting, and the majority of Warren's Venetian subjects, were almost certainly painted en plein air, with several surely composed from the comfort of a gondola to judge from their perspective. One can still see the pin-prick holes in the paper where Warren likely attached it to a portable easel or stand, to enable him to paint in-situ.
William White Warren is, today, a little-known and rather mysterious artist. His work was first shown at the British Institution between 1865-1867, prior to which time he appears not to have exhibited at all. During this time, he lived in Peckham, South-East London, and mainly painted local scenes and views of London. His known works are all oil 'sketches' (that is, largely on paper or small boards, and unvarnished), and most of them on a small scale. Warren's 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 solo exhibition was in 1869 at the German Gallery, New Bond Street, and included views from several of these tours. He also painted England and Ireland, including Dorset, Gravesend, and Cornwall, with several of these views 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.
Warren most likely had a considerable 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. Among the various treasures, one particularly notable work within the sales was a miniature portrait, identified as depicting Handel, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum collection in New York (Acc. No. 15.43.287). During the auction, Warren's own Mediterranean views commanded prices as high as 50 guineas, suggesting that he was well-known as an artist to London collectors and was evidently popular in his own lifetime. Intriguingly, some of these were catalogued as collaborative pieces between Warren and the professional artists James Holland and Alfred Vickers (presumably the short-lived Alfred Gomersal Vickers). His collection also included Simeon Solomon’s Mystery of Faith, now in the National Museums, Liverpool. Somewhat unusually, the catalogue explicitly stated that the auction was to raise funds for Warren himself, who was in ill-health, to travel abroad for his recovery; however, records show that he was to end his days in Bath (several galleries and biographers have incorrectly stated that he died in Downham Market, Norfolk, or Bristol) having fallen on hard times. We are grateful to Nick Williams for sharing his research on this aspect of Warren's biography with us.
This surprisingly abrupt fall from grace may have been precipitated by a court case that sought to demonstrate that the art dealer Alfred Jones had deliberately 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; however, the damage appears to have been done, with Warren too unwell to represent himself, and his reputation languished for many years as a mere imitator of Constable. Graham Reynolds later published an article on the matter in Apollo magazine (1). Despite this chicanery and its unfortunate results, Alfred Jones eventually donated a large body of Warren's to the Victoria Art Museum, Bath, and a further work to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Warren’s distinctive oil sketches were ‘rediscovered’ in the mid-20th century by Paul Wallraf, the collector, academic and connoisseur. John Gere, a like-minded collector and friend of Wallraf's, purchased Warren’s View of the Crystal Palace from Penge in 1954, and this work is now on long-term loan to the National Gallery in London. It is likely that this was the work by Warren which Gere is known to have bought from the newly opened Hazlitt Gallery, mentioned in his 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) and now part of the Gallery's collection, with some on show in a small room just off the main entrance. Among Gere's circle of collector friends, another important figure who owned several oil sketches by Warren was Sir Jack Baer, the Director of Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, who had sold Gere that first oil sketch in 1954 himself. Other sketches by Warren can be found in numerous public collections throughout Britain, including the British Museum, London.
(1) Graham Reynolds, Auctioneers, Dealers, Constables & Crooks: A Vindication of William White Warren, in Apollo, No.132 (June, 1992), pp.368 & 372
(2) Nicholas Penny, John Gere (1921-95), in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 137, No. 1106 (May, 1995), p.320
(3) For a brief discussion of Gere's own 'discovery' of Warren, cf. David Blayney Brown, Landscape Oil Sketches: London (Review), in The Burlington Magazine , Vol. 141, No. 1158 (Sep., 1999), pp.556-558