William Martin Conway (1856-1937)
This collection of watercolours is by the young William Martin Conway, later Sir Martin Conway, 1st Baron of Allington (1856-1937). A veritable turn-of-the-century polymath, Martin was well known for his accomplished work as an explorer, art historian, politician and cartographer.
Born in Rochester to the Reverend William Conway, Martin was raised amidst the medieval history of St Margaret’s, Westminster, where his father was canon in the 1860s. After the death of his father in 1876, Martin began to pursue his passion for more athletic and artistic pursuits. He wrote his first art-historical study, The Woodcutters of the Netherlands, in 1884, but continued to publish widely on further subjects such as Durer and the historical paintings of Parliament, where he later spent time as a MP between 1900 and 1918.
This collection is a testament to two key influences that captivated Conway as a youth: the church and the mountains. In a nod to his father, he captures a number of scenes of grand and local churches, mainly in Westminster, but also across England in Suffolk and Kent. There are also early scenes of the mountains and lakes in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland, where he travelled as part of his school holidays in the early 1870s. Fascinated by their pristine beauty, Conway became an accomplished mountaineer, later mapping the Himalayas and the Bolivean Andes in the 1890s. At one time he claimed the world record by climbing 23,000 feet up the Karakorum Range in India, and he published a number of novels on these adventures throughout his lifetime. His later life saw a continued passion for historical pursuits. Outside of restoring castles, he also acted as Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge from 1901, and was the first Director of the Imperial War Museum. His photography collection, donated to the Courtauld in the 1930s, formed the core collection of what is now called the Conway Library, named in his honour.
His published works can be found in a number of collections, including the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, and the Royal Collection. He died in London in 1937.