William Lionel Wyllie Etchings in Toovey’s March Auction

The Sale of Selected Fine Oil Paintings, Watercolours and Prints on the 21st March 2012 includes a single-owner collection of works by William Lionel Wyllie, offered for sale by auction in 28 lots at Toovey’s Spring Gardens salerooms.

Wyllie was born in 1851 into an artistic family, studying art at Heatherley’s in 1865 and at the RA Schools 1866-1869, winning the Turner medal in 1869.  He worked as an illustrator for The Graphic and exhibited extensively.  He was elected R.I., A.R.A., A.R.E., R.E. and R.A.  In 1906, Wyllie moved to Portsmouth, where he lived for many years.  His panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar hangs in the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard.  Wyllie died in London in 1931.

He is best remembered for his maritime works and the W.L. Wyllie signature is almost synonymous with etchings of the River Thames and the Solent.  The fashion-led world of art, however, has a habit of changing and Wyllie was not always as collected as he is today.  In 1929, during the period of etching revival, James Laver in A History of British and American Etching described his prints as “a wealth of detail seen through a haze of romance.”  In 1981, Kenneth Guichard in British Etchers 1850-1950 states rather critically: “Only a few years ago print dealers shamefacedly produced them [Wyllie etchings] from bottom drawers at a pound a time, together with [other] near throw-outs.”  Today, he is a highly collected name and the prices achieved for his etchings regularly outshine those achieved for the works of many of his contemporaries, including some of the founders of the etching revival in Britain, such as Francis Seymour Haden.

William Lionel Wyllie etching, 'The City of London'
Lot 6, 'The City of London', trial proof etching by William Lionel Wyllie

In the selection of prints, Lot 6 is a true rarity for the William Lionel Wyllie collector.  ‘The City of London’ is an etching in trial state with only partially etched details, the rest of the image composed with pencil and watercolour in a much freer stylistic way.  This trial proof would have been used to map out the finished print and, as such, is a unique version of this image and carries a presale estimate of £400-600.  The collection also includes prints of the Solent, prints of military interest and prints of picturesque views along the Thames, many featuring London landmarks, such as Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.  There is also one original watercolour in the collection (Lot 13).  Somewhat unusually, though, Wyllie’s watercolours tend to achieve the same price levels as his etchings at auction.

To view the William Lionel Wyllie collection (Lots 1-28) in our auction of Selected Fine Oil Paintings, Watercolours and Prints, click here.