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Watercolour, 1863, Henry Brittan Willis (1810–1884), V&A Museum no. 1218-1886

Henry Brittan Willis (1810, Bristol–17 January 1884, London) was a British painter of landscapes and, particularly, of sheep and cattle. Willis was born in Bristol and worked initially with his father, G. H. Willis, also a landscape painter. In 1842, he traveled to the United States. In 1862 he was made an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours and a full member in 1863. He exhibited often both at the Royal Academy and the British Institution. Critics noted that he was influenced by John Constable, whose fame as a landscape painter eventually came to eclipse Willis' after his death. Recently, however, the interest in Willis has increased, as evidenced by the presence of his works in several important auctions and in leading international museums, as well as by the popularity of reproductions and prints from his paintings of animals. His special preference for painting cows and sheep in itself distinguishes Willis from other contemporary Victorian painters. As reported in two subsequent issues of Notes and Queries in 1895 (5 January 1895, p. 7, and 2 February, 1995, pp. 94–95), Willis suffered greatly when on 13 February 1874 the London Panthecnicon in Knightsbridge was destroyed by a fire. As recorded in Willis' obituary in The Athenaeum of 26 January 1884 this was "a terrible misfortune" for the painter, since "the best part of nearly thirty years'" work by Willis was stored there. The misfortune, however, turned out to have a brighter side for Willis. As noted in Notes and Queries of 5 January 1895 by Henry E. Bliss, Deputy Librarian of the College of the City of New York, "owing to the fact that many of the painter's pictures were lost, those remaining have (...) become rare" and researched by collectors. This is as true today as it was at the end of the 19th century.

References

Henry Brittan Willis from the John Noott Galleries database Henry Brittan Willis in the Fine Art Gallery database

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