Attrib. Keeley Halswelle RI ARSA, Venetian Boats - c.1873 watercolour painting


An original c.1873 watercolour painting, Attrib. Keeley Halswelle RI ARSA Venetian Boats.

A colourful study in watercolour showing Venetian bragozzo fishing boats, attributed to Keeley Halswelle RI ARSA (1832-1891). Halswelle was a painter of genre scenes and landscapes, and a watercolourist and illustrator. He painted quite extensively in Italy in the 1870s, and in particular Venice, having moved to Italy in 1869. He also had a fondness for boats, and in later life owned a houseboat on the Thames.

This charming small sketch captures the colour and activity of the Venice lagoon. It shows the boats’ decorated square lug sails, traditionally emblazoned with cabalistic signs or heraldic symbols. Sponges and natural dyes were used to paint the sails in bright colours, which would help preserve the material and make the boats recognisable at a distance.

The paper is evidently a sketchbook page and is likely a study for a larger composition in oil - of which Halswelle had many Venetian in subject. In the winter of 1874-5 he exhibited at Agnew’s gallery a number of Venetian sketches, of which he wrote:

‘The present collection of pictures and sketches of Venice is the result of the accident of a damp studio. Early in the year 1873 I made arrangements for a long residence in Venice… My choice of a studio was unfortunate, on account of its extreme dampness; so, finding after some trials that it would be impossible to work in it with safety… I determined to employ my time in the gondola in endeavouring to delineate, under a summer aspect, some of those beautiful and unique views so familiar to all who have had the happiness of visiting this wonderful city of the sea… Their fidelity to the places represented may be relied upon from the fact that all were drawn and painted on the spot, without any attempt ' to make pictures,' or to alter or vary any effect or form in nature. They have been painted con amore, simply as realistic and faithful delineations of every-day effects in Venice.’

In watercolour with graphite on pale pink laid paper. Presented in an ivory window mount, as shown.

Unsigned. Attributed historically on the window mount, upper right, as shown. The paper bears two catalogue numbers written in pencil on the verso.
In good condition for its age. There is minor toning to the far edges of the paper. The bottom edge of the sheet is raw, as removed from a sketchbook. The upper right corner is slightly buckled where the mounting tape is adhered to the verso.
12.7cm x 9.1cm.

Born into a Scottish family established in Richmond near London, Halswelle spent his early years sketching along the banks of the Thames. After a position at an architect’s office, he spent time working under an engraver and studying at the British Museum. From 1860 he began a career working in book illustration, first working for the London Illustrated News. He was sent to illustrate a series of sketches of Scotland, and, whilst in Edinburgh, having received a number of other commissions from leading publishers, decided to stay and work in Scotland. He studied at the Royal Scottish Academy, where he became an associate member in 1866. From 1869, he lived in Italy, painting Italian peasant subjects and Venetian scenes, for which he became famous. In 1880s, he abandoned figure painting and returned to painting highland landscapes and views of the Thames. Halswelle owned a houseboat called the Kelpie, and he became a pioneer of houseboating on the Thames. In 1883 he published a book of wood engravings entitled ‘A Series of Eighty Pictures. The Result of Six Years in a Houseboat’.

Halswelle’s works are in numerous public collections across the UK, including amongst others Tate, Glasgow Museums, Walker Art Gallery, the Whitworth and Leeds Art Gallery.

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Product code: JM-057

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