Please note that over the busy Christmas period the post may take a little longer than usual. For our free shipping by standard service, we recommend the following final purchase dates to ensure your order is delivered before Christmas:
Thursday 30 November Africa, Middle East
Tuesday 5 December Asia, Caribbean, Central and South America, Cyprus, Far East, Eastern Europe (except Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia)
Thursday 7 December Australia, Greece, New Zealand
Tuesday 12 December Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Sweden, USA
Thursday 14 December Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland
Tuesday 19 December UK
Should you wish your parcel to be sent by a faster, guaranteed service, we would be happy to do this - please contact us for a quote for any extra charge payable.
We are excited to have been nominated for the Bradford on Avon Business Awards in the Best Start-up category. If you like what we do, please show your support and vote for us!
To show our appreciation, confirm to us that you have voted and we will enter your name into a prize drawer with the opportunity to win a £100 voucher off any Somerset & Wood purchase!
Thank you and good luck! (Voting will close 10pm Sunday 1st October 2017)
Improvements to our website mean that we can now accept credit card payments seamlessly at checkout. Be assured that our site is fully PCI Compliant.
Alternatively, you can still choose to checkout via PayPal if you prefer.
So many interesting pictures cross our path here at Somerset & Wood but sometimes the identification of their subject remains frustratingly elusive. We always welcome customer input and very much appreciate any insights you can share to help identify subjects - from churches, towns, towers and castles, to flowers, boats, trains and planes.
On our Unidentified Subjects page you will find a selection of just such pictures. Don your deerstalker hat and take a browse - we will constantly be adding new pictures so check back regularly.
If you recognise a subject, please drop us an email giving the picture's product code (e.g. JD-574) and identification of the specific subject. On verification you will receive a special discount code to enter on checkout to receive 10% off your next purchase!
Please note: Somerset & Wood will be closed for holidays from Monday 26 to Friday 30 December 2016, which may result in delays in responding to customer queries. Any orders placed during the holiday period will be shipped on our return on 2 January 2017.
Wishing all our customers a very merry Christmas!
Please note that over the busy Christmas period the post may take a little longer than usual. We recommend the following final purchase dates to ensure your order is delivered before Christmas:
2 December Africa, Middle East
7 December Asia, Cyprus, Far East, Eastern Europe (except Czech Republic, Poland
8 December Caribbean, Central and South America
9 December Australia, Greece, New Zealand
14 December Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Poland
15 December Canada, Finland, Sweden, USA
16 December Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland
20 December UK
“This is by far the most difficult country that I have painted in.” British-born artist William Pretyman had travelled far and wide when he made this comment in Panama in 1912. He was referring to the country’s light and colour – a country of such exuberant tropical splendour that it leads him to bemoan his vibrant paints for being just “too low in key”. Pretyman had painted in difficult circumstances before, having been British Representative in Borneo where, sketching local scenes as the first Resident of Tempassuk, “His experiences of head hunters… developed the aggressive side of the man”.
William Pretyman, Kinabatangan River, North Borneo - Sabah State Archives
But it was the Panama landscape that Pretyman found the most challenging to reproduce, and he was not the first artist to encounter adversity in Panama. Just over two decades earlier, Paul Gauguin had lived on Isla Taboga off the Panama coast. Gauguin had left Paris to try to make his way as an artist and, he said, “in order to have peace and quiet, to be rid of the influence of civilisation”. But the penniless artist was forced to labour on the early, disastrous French attempt to build the Panama Canal in 1887, and, struck by illness, ended up in a Yellow Fever and Malaria Sanitorium on Taboga.
Travelling to Panama in 1911, William Pretyman wanted to capture the tropical beauty of the landscape, as well as document the feat of human endeavour that was the construction of the great Canal. His 1911 painting “The beach at Taboga Island Sanitorium off the Panama coast” brilliantly records these conflicting aspects in one image, depicting the very place where Gauguin convalesced:
This painting ostensibly depicts a paradise island: the sea streaked with azure blue, small huts scattered on the dazzling white sand. But Pretyman’s inscription on the back of the painting records the reality of the view: “here is a U.S. hospital for convalescent Canal employees".
The Panama Canal is hailed as one of the great engineering achievements of the 20th century, but this came at a human price, with more than 25,000 workers dying during the chequered history of the Canal’s construction, as a result of challenging terrain, hot, humid weather, heavy rainfall and rampant tropical diseases.
It was Pretyman's marriage to the beautiful American Jenny Remington that had taken him to the United States in 1881, living first in Albany, New York and then, from 1887, in Chicago, where Jenny’s family had connections with high society. The Pretymans moved south to North Carolina in the mid-1890s, and kept a beachfront home and studio, “The Wreck”, in Nantucket (which was stayed in by artist Walter Crane). It was no great leap, therefore, for this English artist to end up recording the transforming landscape in Panama at the beginning of the 20th century. These surviving photos nevertheless show the incongruity of British artist alongside Panama's construction workers:
Pretyman in Panama, Silver gelatin prints - Somerset & Wood Fine Art
Throughout 1911 and 1912 Pretyman produced a number of remarkable paintings documenting the Canal’s construction – a sample of which can be seen in these sepia archival photographs:
These works went on to be shown at the first private exhibition of the Newport Art Association (now the Newport Art Museum, Rhode Island). The Boston Herald reported:
“Mr Pretyman in addition to the insight of a painter has the training of a world traveler and is apparently a true cosmopolitan and finds himself equally at home in England, Nassau, in mid-ocean or in Panama.”
In 1913, Dudensing Galleries in New York City exhibited the Panama Canal watercolours, and the New York Times noted:
“The topographical character has been so sumptuously preserved by the painter, while he has also succeeded in giving his sketches the spontaneity of work done on the spot. The brilliant tropical color is reproduced without garishness, and the series forms a most interesting record of the aspect of the canal before it was filled by water.”
In this vibrant 1912 watercolour of a view towards the mountains of Colombia, Pretyman paints from the comfortable vantage point of the “Piazza of the Tivoli Hotel”. The Tivoli Hotel had been at the centre of Canal Zone society since its opening in 1906. Its stated purpose was to house Canal construction workers; but in reality its doors were also open to a host of dignitaries and celebrities, its first official guest being US President Teddy Roosevelt. In this watercolour Pretyman, again, presents a vision of a tropical idyll while nevertheless faithfully recording the impact of the Canal’s construction, drawing attention here to “Employees mosquito proof houses in the foreground”.
Pretyman’s own biography is a mixed tale of privilege, adversity and conflict. Born into a Christian family in Aylesbury, his father was a Reverend, and his upbringing is presumed to be respectable. Following an unconventional path of world travel, on settling in the United States he found himself employed as a decorative designer and mural painter, working on a number of significant interiors in the Midwest during the 1880s and 1890s, including private residences, public spaces and church interiors. In Chicago he set up studio at the Bay State Building, and his own home exemplified the Aesthetic movement, furnished with his own decorative designs (influenced by William Morris) and curios from his world travels. His design talents can be seen in commissions for the Glessner House Parlor in Chicago and Society for Savings banking room in Cleveland.
Glessner House Parlor, Glessner House Museum. Photo by James Caulfield.
Society for Savings wallcovering detail. Photo by Jim Morrissette.
In 1891 Pretyman was named Director of Color at the World’s Columbian Exposition, but this post ended in resignation when his vision for the opalescent colouring of the exposition’s buildings was rejected in favour of white. As Maud Howe Elliott recounts: “There was no yielding in this man, and when he found that the sentiment of the majority was against his plan, he resigned his position as color director, and in doing so lost the chance of being associated with one of the truly ideal efforts of his time.”
The greatness of William Pretyman's interior designs - mostly now lost to decay and remodelling - is indisputable, and the ingenuity and uniqueness of his project in and around Panama form an important and enduring historical record. But sadly, of the man, a close friend, Harriet Monroe, conceded: “His genius was betrayed by lofty and indomitable traits of character which could not yield or compromise.”
Imagine a world without cameras. Not only have photographic images become ubiquitous through social media, even the most Facebook-phobic of us rely on photographs to act as our surrogate memory. Cameras may be omnipresent in today’s culture, but never are we more eager to capture those memories than when we are on holiday – the camera still serving the purpose of capturing the out-of-the-ordinary, the extraordinary, the other.
It is through this lens, therefore, that we can view the company paintings produced in India in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and attempt to understand their role and value.
“Company paintings” is a broad term to describe paintings that were produced by Indian artists for Europeans living and working in the Indian subcontinent. The name derives from the fact that many of the patrons worked for the various East India companies.
Such paintings were collected by European travellers as a record of local sights – the subjects of the paintings were usually documentary rather than imaginative – and as such they served a purpose similar to photography today.
The most famous Indian landmark of all, the Taj Mahal at Agra, was a favoured and distinguished subject. This pair of miniature watercolours exemplifies the fine work of the Indian artists; the front and rear elevations satisfy the tourist’s demand for remembering the building from all angles, in much the way today we use photography to systematise our impressions of a place.
This painting in the V&A collection depicts another elevation, and in this case has figures in the foreground, providing a sense of the mausoleum’s grand scale.
Elevation of the Taj Mahal - Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The picturesque watercolours of English artists in India in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were particularly influential on the development of company paintings. Thomas and William Daniell (uncle (1749-1840) and nephew (1769-1837)) travelled through India from 1786 to 1794, a time which coincided with the rise of England as a trade power and the downfall of the Mogul Empire. As a result, western tastes were increasingly influential, whilst at the same time western artists were captivated by the perceived exoticism of the East. The aesthetic similarity between the Daniells’ depiction of the Taj Mahal in 1801 and our company painting can be seen in this example:
Thomas & William Daniell, View of Taj Mahal, 1801
Company paintings represent a hybrid of styles that developed as a result of European (especially British) influences on traditional Indian artistic styles. Indian artists adopted a more naturalistic approach, better suited to the topographical subjects desired by their patrons. The paintings were executed in watercolour rather than gouache, and typically employed western conventions of linear perspective and shading.
Company paintings were generally relatively small in scale, as they were often produced to be compiled in albums and easily transported. Their detail tended to be exceptionally fine, as can be seen in the Taj Mahal paintings. The tree lines depicted in the front elevation also is an exemplary exercise in the western vanishing point.
This interior painting is also outstandingly intricate, with the addition of gilt detailing. Again, ruled perspective lines at the bottom of the image show technical understanding of western perspective.
The attention to detail in this painting transports the viewer to this sacred interior, and it was surely a worthy reminder of actual place for its patron or collector. When pitted against the advancements of modern photography, these company paintings, however, also reveal a deeper value which extends beyond their documentary accuracy. The time, care, and skill embodied in these works elevate them above the holiday snapshot, and their painted marks connect us with the living hand of their 19th-century creators.
It is not often that the paper upon which a picture is drawn or painted vies for attention with the artwork itself. But a collection that we recently acquired presented us with just that – a group of meticulously drawn early 19th century works executed on early examples of decorative embossed paper.
The collection was once in the possession of a Mrs Clayton of Bamber Bridge, near Preston, Lancashire, in 1827. The Claytons of Bamber Bridge were a prominent local family, who had made their fortune from the local cloth trade and in the 1760s were the first industrial bleachers.
In the same year as James Watt took out a patent for the steam engine, 1796, a patent was granted to John Gregory Hancock for “ornamenting paper by embossing or enchasing”. Britain was gripped in the midst of world-changing industrial revolution, and revolution applied to everything from engines to paper.
Blind embossing is the technique used for the papers in this collection, whereby paper is pressed onto a die pre-cut with a design, without a printed image. In its early development the process was required a sophisticated balance of paper thickness and moisture content to give the right receptivity to the die and stability once moulded. Many of the papers are by Dobbs of London, and are discreetly embossed with this early brand name amid the embossed design.
Dobbs & Co were an “ornamental stationers and pencil manufacturers” in the early years of the 19th century, and were the first company to exploit the commercial potential of paper embossing. Henry Dobbs, trading at 8 New Bridge Street, London, led the company under many guises – Dobbs & Co; Dobbs, Dobbs & Pratt; Dobbs, Bailey & Co; Dobbs, Kidd & Co. The Dobbs name was synonymous with high quality embossing, and the very idea of having embossing on paper was a luxury. Initially the market for Dobbs’s paper was for ceremonial items such as invitations, menus and mourning cards. Dobbs completed special commissions, such as the tickets for the coronation of George IV in 1821 – their decorative extravagance well befitting their subject.
Ticket for Coronation of George IV in 1821 on embossed Dobbs paper
Dobbs went on to produce a series of all-purpose cards with embossed borders, for more general use. With a blank central panel, they could be overprinted, drawn or painted. These cards were geared towards the rapidly growing fashion for creating scrap albums, in which collectors brought together small, original works on paper, such as drawings, paintings and poems. By providing a border for the artwork contained within, the embossed paper acts to elevate the work to that of a more formally framed piece. And the border can complement and enhance the subject of the artwork, such as this example where a natural history subject is bordered with clam shells:
With royal connections and its status as a luxury product, some Dobbs paper designs allude to Britain’s monarchy, whilst others embody a sort of grandiose imperialism. Roses, thistles and shamrock represent the British sovereign:
And this painting of the Nile is surrounded somewhat incongruously by the British crown and monarch’s coat of arms and motto:
To today’s eyes, I think these papers are striking partly for their surprising intricacy. We have come to accept paper as a flat neutral - “invisible” - substrate, and it is unexpected to see it assert such character. But I think the real charm lies in the technological advancement that the paper represents – whilst today the “decorative” has come to be viewed somewhat derogatively in art, in these works it is unashamedly celebrated. The pictures present a beguiling mix of machine meets hand-crafted – and as such crystallise the burgeoning conflicts at the heart of the industrial revolution. From a position of two centuries hence, I am charmed by this innovative advancement in printing which was at the time so very of the moment.
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This week we’re posting a short blog which gives an insight into a satisfying little discovery at Somerset & Wood. We recently acquired a delightful collection of graphite drawings, by a single hand, which are evidently very accomplished.
The collection is charming in its own right, with attractive coastal views and small landscapes populated by tiny, perfectly drawn figures and cattle. The drawings are just so good, and numerous, that we were convinced that they were by a known hand. But although various drawings are inscribed with locations, “Granville”, “Incheville”, “Blackheath”, “Greenwich”, and dates (mainly 1889), we had very little else to go on regarding their identity. These were evidently sketches, not formal pieces, and as such appeared to have no need for signature.
Leafing through all the drawings assiduously, we spotted that one drawing was in fact monogrammed:
A fancy monogram may indicate an established artist, but could simply be an experimenting amateur, and they are often difficult to decipher. We then came across one other drawing which was initialled, this time wholly legibly!:
So we have our artist, G.E.C., but where to go from here?
The collection was accompanied by a curious group of old mounted silver gelatin prints – slightly torn, creased, marked and heavily silvered, they initially looked like the kind of esoteric ephemera that is sometimes assembled together with works on paper from over a century ago.
Could these be a clue to the identity of our accomplished draughtsman? On close inspection, all the prints appear to be photographs of paintings. One is inscribed indistinctly below: “Sold…” Was this a dealer or were these the work of our artist?
At the bottom left of one of the paintings you can just make out a signature – the G and E and C are there – but the remaining letters are indistinct… Carter?...Corner?
Nevertheless, now we were really getting somewhere: a possible name, an apparently accomplished landscape, coastal and figure painter, dating to around 1889.
The graphite drawings are inscribed in English, so although a portion of them are views in Normandy, we were sure the hand was British. The English views are focused around the Blackheath area of south-east London: East Greenwich, Limehouse, East Peckham, Eltham - so it seemed likely this was the locale of the artist’s home.
At last the jigsaw puzzle was complete; the name G.E. Corner and Blackheath location revealed the artist George E. Corner (born c.1853), resident, member and exhibitor at Blackheath Art Club in 1890.
Corner specialised in coastal and figure paintings, exhibiting 1886-91. He exhibited ten works at the Royal Society of British Artists, at the time at which James Abbott McNeill Whistler was President. Operating in esteemed artistic circles, Corner was invited in 1889 to attend a dinner at the Criterion in Piccadilly to congratulate Whistler on being made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Munich (for more information see here).
We had our man, and a hand and context to put to our charming drawings. We even found a colour image of the oil painting depicted in one of the silver gelatin prints - the sort of finished piece for which our graphites were likely preliminary sketches. In conclusion, we still love the drawings in their own right, but with the sense of possibility that comes from such ongoing discovery, we love them a little bit more!