William Lionel Wyllie RA 1851-1931

Biography W.L.Wyllie

W.L.Wyllie was an artist in oil, watercolour, etching and aquatint of marine and tidal Thames subjects. W.L.Wyllie was born in London on 5th July 1851, son of William Morison Wyllie and brother of Charles Wyllie. W.L.Wyllie studied art at the Heatherleys in 1865, and at the Royal Academy Schools between 1866-69, winning the Turner Medal 1869. W.L.Wyllie was the father of Harold Wyllie. W.L.Wyllie lived in Portsmouth for many years from 1907 and died in London on 6th April 1931. Acknowledged as one of the leading marine artists at the turn of the century. Marine painter to the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Ryde. Work in the National Maritime Museum.

W.L.Wyllie in studio - marine artist
Wyllie in his studio

W.L.Wyllie exhibited at:

Royal Academy, Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Society of Painter-Etchers, Royal Hibernian Academy, Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water-colours, Abbey Gallery, Agnew & Sons Gallery, Royal Society of Artists – Birmingham, Carfax & Co. Gallery, RPFA, Connell & Sons Gallery, Dowdeswell Galleries, Fine Art Society, Grosvenor Gallery, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Leicester Gallery, Manchester City Art Gallery, New English Art Club, Arthur Tooth & Son Gallery.

W.L.Wyllie with his wife

William Lionel Wyllie Elected Member of:

Associate of Royal Society of Painter-Etchers 1903, New English Art Club 1887, Associate Royal Academy 1889, Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water-colours 1882, Royal Society of Painter-Etchers 1904, Royal Academy 1907.

Mr. W.L.Wyllie, R.A., R.E. was born in London in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition.

Both his father and his half-brother, Lionel Smythe, were painters, so it was only natural that the boy should take to art at an early age. All the family drew and painted as a matter of course.

W.L.Wyllie first studied at the Heatherly’s in Newman Street, London, where he spent most of his time making drawings from antiques. Later W.L.Wyllie entered the Royal Academy School, where he studied under Leighton, Millais, Armytage, Wells, Landseer, and many other painters of Victorian times.

w.l.wyllie william lionel wyllie watercolour ething thames portsmouth Robert Perera Fine Art

W.L.Wyllie marine artist with wife photograph

Turner Gold Medal

W.L.Wyllie won the Turner Gold Medal, and he was taught perspective in a very thorough manner by Bowler.

W.L.Wyllie’s Family had a house on the shore at Wimereux, in France, and it was usual to spend about half the year at the seaside and the other half in London.; so that a great part of the time was spent in making sketches of the sea and sky, in storm or sunshine, gulls, fishing boats, and square-rigged vessels of all sorts, many of the latter drawn with the aid of a telescope. All ships avoided the rocks and shoals when they could. Wrecks, however, were frequent, and whenever a helpless coaster came crashing on the rocks she made a good subject for the future marine painter, and many are the books filled with interesting sketches – some of them depicting sad events.

Other books contain drawings made whilst on the journey to and from London Bridge and Boulogne, in the old paddle-wheel steamer Pantber. The subjects are too numerous to mention in this short notice, but all are of what passed daily on river and sea and helped to perfect the knowledge and ability of the R.A. to be. (© 2020 Robert Perera Fine Art)

w.l.wyllie william lionel wyllie watercolour ething thames portsmouth Robert Perera Fine Art

W.L.Wyllie engraving an etching - marine artist

W.L.Wyllie first exhibited picture

W.L.Wyllie exhibited his first picture when the R.A. Exhibition was held in Trafalgar Square. It was accepted but skied, being the topmost picture in the lecture room. Next year W.L.Wyllie had better luck with a picture of a sailing ship towing down the Thames. It was hung just over the line. This was the first exhibition in the Burlington House Gallery.

Afterwards a view of London from the top of the Monument was hung on the line itself, and as time went on he became better known – making drawings for the Graphic and illustrating books for Cassell’s ; the first appearing in 1870, “German prizes being brought into Boulogne.”

In 1871 the Wyllie brothers walked to Limehouse, where they bought an old ship’s longboat for £11. A cabin was built in the for-part and mast and sails were added, with slag from Erith Iron Works for ballast.

The Moonlight was not an ideal craft, but she made many long cruses, sailing along the French coast to the mouth of the Seine and then up-stream to Paris.

Another cruise was made in 1873 along inside the Flemish Banks to Ostende, up the canals to Bruges and to Antwerp, and thence through the waterways to Dordrecht and Rotterdam.

Hundreds of pictures and studies were made on these expeditions, and though the brothers were not very expert coasters at the beginning, they soon became so.

A picture painted at this time of a foundered brigantine with a great flock of seagulls, was bought by the celebrated painter, John Sargent. “The Goodwins” and “Blessing the Sea” appeared in 1873, and “The Silent Highway” the year After. This in its turn was followed by “Coming up on the Flood.” In 1881 “The Rochester River” was bought by J.C. Hook, R.A. and “Our River” and “The Port of London” came next.

In 1883 the Council of the Royal Academy bought “Toil, Glitter, Grime and Wealth on a Flowing Tide” for the nation under the terms of the Cantry bequest.

First etchings

The late Robert Dunthorne, the publisher, was so much taken with this picture he gave W.L.Wyllie a commission for a large etching. W.L.Wyllie then set to work to learn the technique of this branch of the arts.

“Work-a-day England” appeared in 1886, and “The River of Gold” the following year. An etching of this subject was a great success, and the same may be said of the “Highway of nations.”

W.L.Wyllie was elected Associate of the Academy in 1889, and exhibited “Davy Jones’ Locker” and “The Phantom Ship.”

The etching of “Kit’s Hole Reach” and “The Calliope steaming out of Samoa in the teeth of a hurricane” were published in 1892, and “The Roaring Forties” in 1894. “London’s Water Gate” was painted for Sir John Wolf Barry, the engineer of the Tower Bridge, in 1895.

The etching, “A Southerly Gale, Brighton,” showing the old chain pier in the midst of breakers, was published just before the pier’s destruction.

In 1899 a second picture was bought for the Chantry collection, “The Battle of the Nile.” Sargent was serving on the Council of the Academy and it was partly owing to his appreciation of the work that it was selected. (© 2003 Robert Perera Fine Art)

In 1901 “The Passing of a Great Queen” was bought for the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. The Art Union of London published the etching of “The Battle of Trafalgar” in 1905, and in 1907 Mr. Wyllie became an Academician, sending “The Wind Falls Light” as his diploma work. His first drypoint was exhibited at the Royal Society of Painter Etchers about this time; it was little more than a sketch, just river craft becalmed. The sky and water represented by white paper with only a suggestion of ripple.

Ever since that date drypoints have become more and more finished. Year by year W.L.Wyllie has found out what scratches on bright copper could be made to produce, and after many failures the work became more easy.

Only in recent years was it discovered that the real finishing touches are best done after the plate has been steel-faced, and this very simple procedure enables the artist to put a delicacy and finish into complicated subjects which would have been quite impossible in the earlier days.

Aquatint and drypoint have been used on some plates, resulting in quite novel effects.

The Great War

During the Great War, Mr. Balfour, the First Lord of the Admiralty, gave permission for Mr. Wyllie to cruise in His Majesty’s ships, and in the North Sea, Harwich, Rosyth, Cromarty, and Scapa Flow, he made hundreds of studies of the doings of our Navy. He saw the German Fleet surrender in the Forth and went with the last convoy of battleships to Scapa Flow. A number of etchings and drypoints resulted from all these cruises. W.L.Wyllie has flown in the air, cruised, submerged in a submarine, and even taken a trip in a Q-ship. His book “Seafights of the Great War” gives some of his experiences.

In 1926 the United Service Club asked Mr. Wyllie to paint an enormous picture of the Battle of Jutland, and this has been exhibited at the Royal Academy and at the Walker Gallery, Liverpool. An etching of the subject has been issued privately to the members of the club.

From a sketching expedition to Northumberland and the East Coast of Scotland, two series of drypoints were published-for private circulation only. These were fully subscribed for, are now out of print and the plates destroyed, as also the “Pass of Glencoe,” which was exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1928, Catalogue number 1194.

W.L.Wyllie next tour was the Mediterranean, from which the famous aquatint “The Parthenon” resulted.

Wyllie Books

This list is shown as a reference guide only and may not be complete or accurate

Title Author Published Date
The Tidal Thames G.Allen London 1884
Marine Painting in Water-Colour W.L.Wyllie London 1901
Nature’s Laws and Making of Pictures W.L.Wyllie London 1903
J.M.W. Turner W.L.Wyllie London 1905
London to the Nore M.A. and W.L. Wyllie London 1905
Sketchbook W.L.Wyllie London 1908
Norway and its Fjords M.A. Wyllie London 1909
Sea Fights of the Great War M.F. Wren London 1918
More Sea Fights of the Great War W.D. Kirkpatrick, C. Owen & W.L. Wyllie London 1919
Lionel P. Smythe R.A. R.W.S. R.M. Whitlaw and W.L. Wyllie London 1923
The Old Portsmouth and New Southsea W.L.Wyllie 1923
A Panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar Soc. for Nautical Research, Annual Report 1929

W.L.Wyllie book by Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge G.C.B. Christmas Number of The Art Journal 1908

Title: W.L.Wyllie by Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge G.C.B. Christmas Number of The Art Journal 1908

W.L.Wyllie book London To The Nore. Painted and Described by W.L.and Mrs Wyllie. Signed Limited Edition.

Title: London To The Nore. Painted and Described by W.L.and Mrs Wyllie. Signed Limited Edition.

W.L.Wyllie marine artist - London To The Nore. Painted and Described by W.L.and Mrs Wyllie.

Title: London To The Nore. Painted and Described by W.L.and Mrs Wyllie.

W.L.Wyllie Marine Painting hardback book

Title: Wyllie Marine Painting

Sketch Book By W.L.Wyllie

Title: Sketch Book By W.L.Wyllie

Sea Fights of the Great War M.F. Wren London 1918 book by w.l.wyllie

Title: Sea Fights of the Great War M.F. Wren London 1918

More Sea Fights of the Great War W.D. Kirkpatrick, C. Owen & W.L. Wyllie London 1919

Title: More Sea Fights of the Great War W.D. Kirkpatrick, C. Owen & W.L. Wyllie London 1919

Nature's Laws and Making of Pictures W.L.Wyllie London 1903

Title: Nature’s Laws and Making of Pictures W.L.Wyllie London 1903

Norway and its Fjords M.A. Wyllie London 1909 - w.l.wyllie

Title: Norway and its Fjords M.A. Wyllie London 1909

The Old Portsmouth and New Southsea W.L.Wyllie 1923

Title: The Old Portsmouth and New Southsea W.L.Wyllie 1923

The Tidal Thames G.Allen London 1884 in five volumes. Illustrated by W.L.Wyllie

Title: The Tidal Thames G.Allen London 1884 in five volumes.

The Tidal Thames G.Allen London 1884 - w.l.wyllie

Title: The Tidal Thames G.Allen London 1884

J.M.W. Turner W.L.Wyllie London 1905

Title: J.M.W. Turner W.L.Wyllie London 1905

We Were One. A Biography of W.L.Wyllie.

Title: We Were One. A Biography of W.L.Wyllie.

W.L.Wyllie. Marine Artist 1851-1931, Roger Quarm and John Wyllie. Forward by Sir Hugh Casson RA

Title: W.L.Wyllie. Marine Artist 1851-1931, Roger Quarm and John Wyllie. Forward by Sir Hugh Casson RA

In the Footsteps of W.L.Wyllie RA. The Old Portsmouth Trail 1906-1931 by Nigel Grundy

In the Footsteps of W.L.Wyllie RA. The Old Portsmouth Trail 1906-1931 by Nigel Grundy

Related artist: Rowland Langmaid, Norman Wilkinson and Charles Dixon

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W.L.Wyllie Gibraltar from the North Front

Title: Gibraltar from the North Front
Medium: Original signed watercolour

HMS Victory in Portsmouth Harbour HMS Victory with early submarine in Portsmouth Harbour

Title:  HMS Victory with early submarine in Portsmouth Harbour
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Grand Canal Venice

Title: Grand Canal Venice
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Thornycroft shipbuilding yard in Woolston Southampton 1912, later to become Vosper Thornycroft, VT Group.

Title: Thornycroft shipbuilding yard in Woolston Southampton 1912, later to become Vosper Thornycroft, VT Group.
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie New York Harbour with Staten Island Ferry.

Title: New York Harbour with Staten Island Ferry.
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie 8 and 12 metres becalmed off Cowes, Isle of Wight

Title:  8 and 12 metres becalmed off Cowes, Isle of Wight
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Royal Yacht Squadron Cowes Isle of Wight

Title:  Royal Yacht Squadron Cowes Isle of Wight
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Yachts racing off Southsea Portsmouth

Title: Yachts racing off Southsea Portsmouth
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Windy Day Cowes Week - Isle of Wight

Title: Windy Day Cowes Week – Isle of Wight
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Racing off Ryde Isle of Wight

Title: Racing off Ryde Isle of Wight
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Yacht racing Loch Long, Argyll and Bute, Scotland

Title: Yacht racing Loch Long, Argyll and Bute, Scotland
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie J-Class Yachts rounding the Warner Lightship

Title: J-Class Yachts rounding the Warner Lightship
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Yachts running down past Ryde

Title: Yachts running down past Ryde
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Oban - Scotland

Title:  Oban – Scotland
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie J-Class Yacht racing past the Forts in the Solent

Title: J-Class Yacht racing past the Forts in the Solent
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Toil, glitter, grime and wealth on a flowing tide. 1885. The original oil is in the Tate Gallery London.

Title: Toil, glitter, grime and wealth on a flowing tide. 1885. The original oil is in the Tate Gallery London.
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Tower Bridge original signed etching

Title: Tower Bridge
Medium: Original signed etching

W.L.Wyllie Looking down the Thames to Tower Bridge pencil signed etching
Title: Looking down the Thames to Tower Bridge
Medium: Original signed etching