William John Wainwright
William John Wainwright was a British artist who was born in Birmingham, England, in 1855. He is recognized as a founder of the Birmingham Art Circle, of which there were three other members. They joined together as plein air artists in the town of Newlyn, a fishing port in Cornwall, England, in 1884.
As a boy he went to school at the Sedgley Park School, which was a Roman Catholic school that closed and became a hotel in 1873. He also attended the Birmingham School of Art, which was run by Edward R. Taylor, but the years that he attended are not known. When Wainwright was 14 years old he began his first real job in the art industry, which happened to be a position in the John Hardman & Company stained glass factory. He was a designer there, and he learned to use his talent while under their training. In 1880 the company paid for his continuing education as an artist, sending him to Antwerp to study with Michel Marie Charles Verlat, a Belgian painter who had a studio there.
Wainwright only stayed in Antwerp for a year before moving to Paris in 1881. That was the same year that he stopped briefly in Newlyn, and therefore he must have stayed at the village while on his way to Paris. He was travelling at the time with his good friend Walter Langley, who was a fellow artist from Birmingham, and a member of the soon-to-be-organized “Newlyn school of art”.
Once Wainwright reached Paris he stayed there and studied until 1884. Finding no reason to stay in France any longer, he moved back to England and settled in London. London, also, was not an inspirational or motivational city for Wainwright to develop his own style. His friend Langley, who was then living in Newlyn, along with Charles Napier Hemy and Edwin Harris, talked him into settling down in Newlyn. Wainwright met with them in Newlyn in 1884, and they took group photographs, and he soon took up residence in the village. Wainwright, Langley, Hemy and Harris joined together and became the Birmingham Art Circle.
His en plein air works were exactly what he’d hoped them to be, but the especially bright sunlight hurt his eyes. In fact, he ended up later losing the sight in one of his eyes. The problem with the light made him move back indoors to paint, and with the realization that it wasn’t working out as planned, Wainwright moved back permanently to his hometown of Birmingham in 1886. His friends Langley and Harris remained in Newlyn for another decade. By 1890 Wainwright had met a young woman named Bertha Mary Powell, whom he married, and together they raised eight children.
His art career was by no means over, and he was actually involved with the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) for most of his life. He had begun as one of the first Associate Members to be accepted, and that happened in 1881. In 1927 he was elected the president of the RBSA, having been the first president chosen from the ranks of members. He was also the first member of his society to have his own solo show; it was held in 1928. He lived to the age of 76, passing away in Birmingham on August 1, 1931.
Seven artworks that are known to be his, include four portraits: The Old Burgomaster; Leonard Briarly; Howard Pearson; and John Keeley, RBSA. The fifth painting is called The Parable of the Wise and Foolish, the sixth is titled The Grace Cup, and the seventh is Study of a Young Boy. Wainwright’s talent is immediately obvious, and although his landscapes from his time in Newlyn are not easily found, the pleasure would certainly be in discovering them now.