1830-1916 | British
Sir Walter Raleigh in the Tower
Signed and dated "H. Wallis 1857" (lower right)
Inscribed "Wallis/198 Marylebone Rd" (en verso)
Oil on panel
One of the three great masterpieces of the artist's career, this extraordinary oil by Henry Wallis reflects the highly detailed compositions and richly hued palettes championed by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Reminiscent of the paintings of William Holman Hunt and Ford Madox Brown, its historically accurate details enhance the richness of its subject, that of Sir Walter Raleigh imprisoned in the Tower of London. The work was painted just two years after he composed his first great masterpiece, The Death of Chatterton, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856, and which resembles the present work in composition, palette and light. The artist exhibited Sir Walter Raleigh in the Tower at the Royal Academy in 1858, a testament to both the artist's regard for the work and its overall quality.
Apart from the fact that it is an exceptional example of the Pre-Raphaelite style, it is also exemplary of the Victorian interest in history; the tragic story of Sir Walter Raleigh would have been a well-known tale in affluent households of the age. A poet, explorer, spy and statesman, Raleigh is perhaps best remembered as one of the most powerful and colorful characters of Queen Elizabeth I's court. Following the Queen's death, he was charged with treason, largely due to the distrust of the Queen's successor, James I. In November of 1603, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he would spend the next 13 years of his life, and during which time he penned his famed The History of the World.
Wallis captures Raleigh during his captivity with the high level of detail and the symbolism that were tenets of the Pre-Raphaelite style. He is shown seated at his desk, presumably penning his famed tome, while his son, Carew, blows bubbles in the chair beside him. Given the age of the child, who was born in 1605, one can surmise Raleigh is nearing the end of his captivity, after which he set course for Venezuela in search of El Dorado. Evidence of his skill as an explorer is glimpsed about the room, from the globe in the lower left to the maps that adorn his walls. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I also hangs behind him, an allusion to his fidelity to the Queen. The pale afternoon light streams in through the window, illuminating the innocent face of his son, yet casting his own in shadow, perhaps presaging his eventual execution. Following the Pre-Raphaelite principle of truth to nature, Wallis presents a stunning scene from the life of one of the most fabled figures in British history.
Born in London in 1830, Wallis was the son of Mary-Anne Thomas, who later married the prosperous London architect Andrew Wallis. Henry took his stepfather's name and benefited from his financial support, gaining artistic training at the Royal Academy beginning in 1848 and later in Paris at the Academie des Beaux Arts. Wallis' earliest works are considered to be his most significant; these he composed after adopting the style of the Pre-Raphaelites, though later in life, he abandoned this approach and turned instead to watercolor painting. Today, his works can be found in important museums such as the Tate Britain (London), the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art.
Painted in 1857
Panel: 25" high x 30" wide
Frame: 32" high x 37" wide
London, Royal Academy, 1858, no. 369
The London University Magazine, Vol. III, 1858, p.327
The Royal Academy Review, 1858, p.20
The Art Journal, New Series, Vol. IV, 1858, p.167
The National Magazine, Vol. 4, 1858, p.102
The Athenaeum, No. 1592, 1 May 1858, p.567
The Times, 1 May 1858, p.5
The Birmingham Daily Post, 7 May 1858, p.1
The Examiner, 8 May 1858, p.293
The London Daily News, 10 May 1858, p.2
The Illustrated London News, 15 May 1858, p.498
The Saturday Review, 15 May 1858, p.502
The Times, 22 May 1858, p.9
The Literary Gazette, 29 May 1858, p.522
Henry Wallis (1830-1916): From Pre-Raphaelite Painter to Collector/Connoisseur, 2019, by R. Lessens and D. T. Lanigan, p. 100
Robert Kirkman Hodgson J.P., D.L.
T. Agnew & Son, Christies, 23 February 1907, lot 59
Thence by descent
M.S. Rau, New Orleans