William Whitley

I have always wanted to know more about William Whitley, a pioneer historian of British art, whose book Artists and their Friends in England 1700-1799 is often written off as antiquarian because it is so obviously based on primary sources, but not footnoted because he wanted to be cited, rather than the original from which he drew his information (there is apparently a footnoted copy of the book amongst his papers in the British Museum).   I have discovered that he trained as a painter, submitted works to the Royal Academy, and only later turned to writing about British art, publishing a biography of Gainsborough in 1915 and his series of books about British art in the late 1920s, when he was in his seventies.   He was awarded a pension, but died destitute in Farnborough.

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3 thoughts on “William Whitley

  1. marinavaizey says:

    I think there are numerous forgotten art historians who wrote books of real interest. I have a very soft spot for the vivid, charming, knowledgable, and very lively short books by William Gaunt, – Victorian Olympus? etc unfashionable as the Victorians were still being ignored etc (mid 20th century) and also there was NEVER a footnote to be found anywhere. popular introductions, witty and unpretentious. John Rothenstein, blind to great art I feel and certainly to non British art, did write some interesting essays about English artists, although his prejudices were disastrous for the Tate. And, by the way, a superb photograph by you of London at night.

  2. Edward Chaney says:

    I read Gaunt’s Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy as a teenager and loved it… I also met, liked and read the unjustly maligned John Rothenstein. Given how uncelebrated he was when he turned 90 i wrote an articolo for Apollo which i called ‘The Vasari of British Art’ a title i still think is a succinct description of his achievement… If he hadn’t documented those still largely under-rated artists whom he and his father did so much to encourage no-one else would have done.. I’d rather have a Charles Mahoney on my walls than a Jackson Pollock, let alone a Damian, a Tracy or a Gruesome Perry…

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