Impressionist painting in Britain: 14 Wynford Dewhurst

Wynford Dewhurst (1864-1941), The Picnic (1908), media and dimensions not known, Manchester City Art Gallery, Manchester, England. Wikimedia Commons.

During the late nineteenth century, many British painters trained in Paris and returned to Britain to paint in Impressionist style. A few stayed longer in France, where they moved in French Impressionist circles and painted popular Impressionist motifs. Among them was Wynford Dewhurst (1864-1941), who wrote the first significant account of the Impressionist movement to be published in English, an influential book at the time.

Although known throughout his career as Wynford Dewhurst, he was initially given the more forgettable name of Thomas Edward Smith, and changed his name formally when studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He came from an affluent family in Manchester, England, and originally trained in law, but decided to move to Paris to study painting. There he was a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme, the noted realist who was a fierce critic of Impressionism, but despite that Dewhurst became an Impressionist. Oddly, though, it’s claimed that it was the work of Emile Claus, the Belgian ‘Luminist’ who was close to Claude Monet, which first attracted Dewhurst, and that he saw those paintings in a private collection in Bradford, England.

Very few of Dewhurst’s paintings are now accessible, and the earliest date to the mid-1890s.

Dewhurst, Wynford, 1864-1941; French Landscape
Wynford Dewhurst (1864-1941), French Landscape (1895), media and dimensions not known, National Museum Cardiff, Cardiff, Wales. Wikimedia Commons.

This French Landscape from 1895 makes clear that he did paint in full Impressionist style.

Wynford Dewhurst (1864-1941), Evening Shadows (1899), oil on canvas, 72 x 99 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Evening Shadows from 1899 is another good example. Notable here is the fine detail he uses for the deer feeding among the bracken at the right.

In 1904, Dewhurst published one of the most influential early accounts of Impressionism in the English language. There he traces its origins from early nineteenth century British landscape painting, through the Barbizon School, Boudin and Jongkind, to Manet, Monet and others. He apparently wrote this from his home in Leighton Buzzard, England, and dedicated it to his mentor Claude Monet. In its preface he claims that he didn’t embrace Impressionism until 1891, when he was a student in Paris, and had been instructed to copy Monet’s style.

Early in its first chapter he establishes his controversial claim: “Indirectly, Impressionism owes its birth to Constable; and its ultimate glory, the works of Claude Monet, is profoundly inspired by the genius of Turner.”

Although there is good historical evidence that Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, when they had fled to London during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, saw and were deeply influenced by the landscapes of Constable and Turner, Dewhurst presses his point to argue that “the French artists simply developed a style which was British in its conception.” I’m sure that made him more enemies than friends.

Dewhurst’s book is worth reading for its collection of anecdotes about the lives of painters, although how reliable these are is in serious doubt, as most relate to events which took place before the author had even arrived in France, and appear to have been gathered secondhand.

This book certainly promoted Dewhurst’s reputation. He exhibited extensively in Britain from 1908 onwards, and lectured at the Royal Academy. He had solo exhibitions in 1923 and 1926.

Dewhurst, Wynford, 1864-1941; The Blue Valley
Wynford Dewhurst (1864-1941), The Blue Valley (1908), media and dimensions not known, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, England. Wikimedia Commons.

Dewhurst’s painting also matured, as seen in this view of The Blue Valley from 1908, which appears to show a deep canyon in European uplands. The influence of Monet is never far away.

Wynford Dewhurst (1864-1941), The Picnic (1908), media and dimensions not known, Manchester City Art Gallery, Manchester, England. Wikimedia Commons.

This autumnal scene of The Picnic, also from 1908, is now hung in the city of his birth, Manchester, and could easily have been painted in either Britain or France.

Wynford Dewhurst (1864-1941), Apple-Blossom Time in Arc-la-Bataille (date not known), oil on canvas, 38.3 x 55.4 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

His undated painting of Apple-Blossom Time in Arc-la-Bataille supports his case that one major innovation of the French Impressionists was their Japanese influence.

Dewhurst died in 1941, by which time his book and paintings were all but forgotten amid the modern art promoted by Roger Fry and his circle.


Wynford Dewhurst (1904), Impressionist Painting, its Genesis and Development, George Newnes, available from here.