William Frederick Yeames, RA and His Circle - Watercolours and Drawings

Dates: 01 - 30 September 2010

The drawings and watercolours in this exhibition come from an album of works by William Frederick Yeames RA and several other hands. Some of the works by unknown hands are clearly by artists connected with Yeames and his circle, particularly those showing the homes of the artist Henry Tanworth Wells, RA and the patron and collector, Gustav Christian Schwabe. Yeames was a prominent member of a social group of artists known as the St John’s Wood Clique. The members of the group would meet regularly and among their forms of entertainment would make small sketches and drawings that they often exchanged with one another. It is likely that some of the drawings from this collection are the results of such artistic gatherings.

William Frederick Yeames was born in 1835 in Taganrog, Southern Russia, where his father was British Consul. After an early education in Dresden and following the death of his father the family returned to live in London in 1848. Here he studied under Westmacott, taking anatomy and composition lessons from George Scharf. In 1852 he journeyed to Florence where he studied with Enrico Pollastrini and Raphael Buonajuti. During his time there he painted at the Life School at the Grand Ducal Academy, and studied the frescoes of Andrea del Sarto, Ghirlandio and Gozzoli. Continuing on to Rome, he painted landscape studies and copied the Old Masters, including the frescoes of Raphael in the Vatican. In 1859 he returned to London, initially setting up a studio in Park Place and exhibiting his first work at the Royal Academy where he was to become a regular exhibitor. He was also a prolific exhibitor at many other major British venues including the British Institute, Royal Society of British Artists, Grosvenor Gallery and elsewhere. In 1866 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, becoming a full member in 1878 and retiring in 1913. He specialized in well-known scenes from English history, usually of the Elizabethan or Cromwellian periods, e.g. Lady Jane Grey in the Tower (Sheffield, City Art Gallery), Death of Amy Robsart (Tate Gallery), Prince Arthur and Hubert (Manchester, City Art Gallery) etc. Perhaps his best-known work is the Victorian icon of history painting: “And When Did You Last See Your Father?” (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).

Yeames lived in Grove End Road, St John’s Wood, London. The St John’s Wood Clique, of which he was a prominent member, was an informal group of like-minded friends whose regular members included Philip Hermogenes Calderon, George Dunlop Leslie, Henry Stacy Marks, John Evans Hodgson, George Augustus Storey and David Wilkie Wynfield. Known for their love of amateur dramatics and practical jokes their jovial company frequently extended to include many other artists of the day. The core of the group held weekly meetings at their homes, to draw together, discuss art, gossip and to generally exchange ideas. They often spent summers together, either staying in one another’s country houses, in the homes of their friends or occasionally renting properties. A favourite and memorable rental was Hever Castle in Kent, which provided the interior settings for several of their pictures.

Works by Yeames can be seen in many public collections.

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