Circle of John Varley, Boat on Beach - Early 19th-century graphite drawing




An original early 19th-century graphite drawing, Circle of John Varley Boat on Beach.

A graphite sketch showing a boat being built or repaired on the beach, possibly at Lowestoft in Suffolk or Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Some of the figures appear to be caulking the vessel, which involved filling the gaps between wooden planks with hemp fibres, before covering them with pitch (heated in a brazier). Verso a graphite study of three sailing ships at sea, with a port in the background. On wove paper watermarked "[1]794 [J W]hatman".

Unsigned.
In good condition for its age. There is minor age toning at the edges of the paper and a small broan smudge upper right, as shown.
11cm x 18cm.
Unframed.

This interesting drawing forms part of a collection of accomplished sketches of landscape surveys around Suffolk and Norfolk, recording various local landmarks such as churches, castles and country estates. The works have the appearance of preparatory sketches, numerous and freely executed with a lightness of touch.

The drawings, some of which are watermarked, are on quality Whatman 1794 wove paper. The inside cover of the sketchbook is very indistinctly inscribed “Suffolk Book 1816[?]” (please note that the inscription is pictured for information only and does not come with the artwork). One of the drawings is inscribed “John Varley 1801”. John Varley OWS (1778-1842) was a central figure to the watercolourists of the early 19th century – a prolific exhibitor and influential teacher.

The question of whose hand these drawings are by is an intriguing one. Our artist is someone not only with extensive local knowledge, and the time and means to tour and sketch, but also someone with knowledge of and connections to local landowners: drawings of views of local country estates are inscribed with the names of the estate owners.

The Langley Park seat of Sir Thomas Beauchamp-Proctor 2nd Baronet (1756–1827) in Norfolk is of particular significance as two of the drawings refer to objects within Langley Hall – an engraving by Dusart, painting by Teniers, and a turtle. Sir Thomas had connections with notable artists of the day. He completed a European Grand Tour in the 18th century, and married a beauty, Mary Palmer, who was painted by George Romney, Benjamin West and John Opie. It would appear that our artist, by association, would have had access to works of this quality. Furthermore, the drawings evidence an interest in archaeology and antiquity, having sketched Roman pottery fragments at Icklingham.

It is unclear whether the artist had access to copy an 1801 work by John Varley, or whether there is a more personal connection, perhaps as student or friend. The Suffolk topographical draughtsman John Preston Neale, for example, was a lifelong friend of Varley, and is known to have drawn Sir Thomas Beauchamp-Proctor’s Langley Hall – a drawing reproduced in his major work “Views of the Seats in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland” vol.III, published 1820.

The hand of these drawings remains a mystery and they are perhaps all the more charming for it.

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Product code: JE-838


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