Victorian English artist William Maw Egley was born in London, in 1826. He was the son of miniaturist artist William Egley, who was young Egley’s first tutor. Egley’s early works were illustrations of literary subjects typical of the period, which were similar to the work of ‘The Clique‘, a group of English artists formed by Richard Dadd in the late 1830s.
‘The Clique‘ was the first group to reject the Royal Academy’s high art, stating, ‘it’s backward-looking tradition was not relevant to genre painting and the requirements of contemporary art’. The group’s view was that art should be ‘judged by the public, not by the conformity of academic ideals’.
Members of The Clique included Augustus Egg, Henry Nelson O’Neil, John Phillip, Edward Matthew Ward, Alfred Elmore, and William Powell Frith. Frith hired Egley to add background effects to his own work. Soon after, Egley developed a style influenced by Frith, including domestic and childhood subjects.
- Most of Egley’s paintings were genre scenes of urban and rural life, depicting subjects of harvest festivals and contemporary fashions. His best-known painting, Omnibus Life in London (1859) [featured above], is a comic scene of people squashed together in the busy, cramped public transport of the Victorian era.
In the 1850s, most members of The Clique became inveterate enemies of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, believing their art to be willfully eccentric and primitivist. Frith and O’Neil wrote many attacks on Pre-Raphaelite principles. However, Egg became a friend and supporter of William Holman Hunt.
- Although Egley flirted only briefly with Pre-Raphaelite subjects and ideas, the intense detail of The Talking Oak, (1857) [featured above], with its meticulously high finish, reflects the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite technique. This painting was exhibited at the British Institution in 1857, with the following quotation from Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
But tell me, did she read the name
I carved with many vows?
By the 1860s, Egley adopted the fashion for romanticised 18th-century subjects. Though he produced a very large number of reliably salable paintings, his work was never critically admired. William Maw Egley died on 20 February, 1916.
“Is It Art?”