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John Reinhard Weguelin (British artist) 1849 – 1927

John Reinhard Weguelin was an English painter and illustrator, active from 1877 to after 1910. He specialized in figurative paintings with lush backgrounds, typically landscapes or garden scenes. Weguelin emulated the neo-classical style of Edward Poynter and Lawrence Alma-Tadema, painting subjects inspired by classical antiquity and mythology. He depicted scenes of everyday life in ancient Greece and Rome, as well as mythological subjects, with an emphasis on pastoral scenes. Weguelin also drew on folklore for inspiration, and painted numerous images of nymphs and mermaids. His subjects were similar to those of his contemporary, John William Waterhouse, who also specialized in painting the female figure against dramatic backgrounds, but unlike Waterhouse, many of Weguelin's subjects are nude or scantily-clad. Weguelin was particularly noted for his realistic use of light. Although his earliest work was in watercolour, all of Weguelin's important works from 1878 to 1892 were oil paintings. In order to supplement his income, he drew and painted illustrations for several books, most famously Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome. Beginning in 1893, Weguelin devoted himself almost entirely to watercolour, and became a member of the Royal Watercolour Society. Weguelin's work was exhibited at the Royal Academy and a number of other important London galleries, and was highly regarded during his career. However, he was forgotten following the first World War, as his style of painting fell out of fashion, and he is best remembered as the painter of Lesbia, depicting the fabled muse of the Roman poet Catullus. John Reinhard Weguelin was born 23 June 1849, in the village of South Stoke, near Arundel. His father, William Andrew Weguelin, was Rector of South Stoke, but was forced to relinquish his position about 1856, when he joined the Tractarian Movement, and became a Roman Catholic. When he was still a child, Weguelin's family departed Sussex for Italy, where they lived for several years. Weguelin spent much time at Rome, where he was inspired by art and history. Other than a few drawing lessons in Italy, Weguelin had no formal training in art during his childhood. In 1860, the eleven-year-old Weguelin was sent to Cardinal Newman's Oratory School in Edgbaston. From 1870 to 1873, he worked as an underwriter for Lloyd's of London. At the age of twenty-three in 1873, Weguelin enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art, then headed by Edward Poynter. He studied there for five years, under both Poynter and his successor, Alphonse Legros. Weguelin's first exhibited work was a watercolour, The Death of the First-born, at the Dudley Gallery in 1877. On his graduation from "the Slade," he had his first painting exhibited at the Royal Academy. Although later celebrated as a watercolourist, Weguelin would not exhibit in this medium again until the 1890s, and nearly all of his paintings until 1893 were in oil. Weguelin was heavily influenced by the work of Lawrence Alma-Tadema, but within a few years he developed his own interpretation of classical subjects. Beginning in 1878, he exhibited numerous paintings at various London galleries, including the Royal Academy, the Grosvenor Gallery, and the New Gallery. His work was also featured by the Society of British Artists. His subjects included landscapes, classical and Biblical themes, and pastoral scenes. He also produced illustrations for several books, including the 1881 edition of Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome, G.A. Henty's The Cat of Bubastes (1889), a volume of poems by Catullus (1893), Hans Christian Andersen's stories in The Little Mermaid and other Tales (1893), and Thomas Stanley's translation of Anacreon (1894). The Library described Weguelin as one of the few decorative artists who seldom relied on pen, and habitually expressed themselves in "wash" rather than by line: "Mr. Weguelin has illustrated Anacreon in a manner to earn the appreciation of Greek scholars, and his illustrations to Hans Andersen have had a wider and not less appreciative reception. His drawings have movement and atmosphere." In 1893, Weguelin took up watercolour for the first time since leaving the Slade. He exhibited The Swing at the Royal Academy, and after a few months he was elected an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours. He became a full member in 1897. From this time, Weguelin painted almost exclusively in watercolour, and produced little in oil. He exhibited regularly at a gallery in Pall Mall East. Weguelin enjoyed canoeing and swimming, and was a member of the Savile Club. In mature life, he settled at Hastings. He died 28 April 1927. Weguelin's early works could be considered classicist, reconstructing images of daily life from Greek and Roman times. However, his work reflected a free adaptation of the pagan spirit of classical art, instead of adhering to a strictly historical interpretation. Writing in 1904, art critic Alfred Lys Baldry described Weguelin as "a painter of classic abstractions." In an 1888 article on exhibitions at the New Gallery, The Art Journal compared the work of three contemporaries, Alma-Tadema, whose work had strongly influenced Weguelin, Charles Napier Kennedy, and Weguelin himself, to that of George Frederic Watts. All four artists treated similar subjects. Mr. Alma-Tadema's Venus and Mars, Mr. C.N. Kennedy's Fair-haired Slave who made himself a King, and Mr. J.R. Weguelin's Bacchus and the Choir of Nymphs are figure subjects of more realistic intention than the preceding [referring to Mr. Watts' ''Angel of Death'']. Mr. Tadema's colour is the most mellow, and Mr. Weguelin's the hardest and coldest. All three are seriously studied, and give a more or less true notion of the figure in its natural relation to the environment. Weguelin's later work was described by Baldry in The Practice of Water-Colour Painting: It is especially as a painter of the nude figure in water-colour that Mr. J.R. Weguelin has made himself famous. He has taken up a class of subject that comparatively few artists attempt, and he has handled it in a long series of very attractive paintings with a charm and distinction that can be sincerely admired. He has a very pleasing fancy and a delightful sense of style; and his graceful draughtsmanship, his exquisite feeling for delicate harmonies of colour, and his brilliantly direct and expressive brushwork make his productions more than ordinarily important as examples of the judicious application of the water-colour medium. Baldry goes on to discuss Weguelin's principles and techniques. The Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica mentions Weguelin as, "one of the most facile and expressive painters of fantastic figure subjects." British Water-Colour Art lists the colours used by members and associates of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours. Weguelin's palette included "vermilion, light red, rose madder, purple madder, brown madder, yellow ochre, cadmium 1 and 2, oxide of chromium, oxide of chromium (transparent), black and Chinese white, Vandyke brown, raw umber, burnt umber." The Practice of Water-Colour Painting describes his palette as "cendre blue, French blue, oxide of chromium (opaque and transparent), Hooker's green, No. 1, yellow ochre, aureolin, cadmium orange, raw sienna, burnt sienna, purple madder, rose madder, light red, brown madder, Vandyke brown, raw umber, and flake white; and occasionally vermilion, burnt umber, and lampblack.

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