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William Walcot 1874-1943

February 10 – March 06, 1952

With the death of William Walcot in 1943 there disappeared one of the last of the long series of artists who were characteristic of English printmaking since the eighteenth century. He belonged to a tradition of draughtsmen who developed admirable and often new techniques for rendering reality in a faithful manner, with aims almost forgotten by the present world. English concern in architecture as a humane and as a cosmopolitan art was developed in him to a degree found in few of his contemporaries. As for many Englishmen of his kind, architecture for Walcot was not only the building to be erected but the building of the past or present or future to be enjoyed, to be studied, to be savored with the full flavor of its surroundings, its history, its associations with life. Architecture to his was the pivot of a rich life's complete experience.

Walcot's origin and early education set him on the course which he was to follow. He was born in Odessa, of a Scottish father and a Russian mother. He received his first architectural education at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. This was the stepping stone to further study in Paris, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and in painter's studios. When he settled in England he dedicated himself to three things: building and city planning; the study of ancient architecture, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian: the rendering in prints, drawings, and watercolors of buildings which he liked. His merit soon was recognized and he held an honored place in British life. Archeologists cooperated with him on his reconstructions of ancient ruins. He received the highest praise from his colleagues in the Royal Institute of British Architects of which he was a fellow, in particular from Sir Reginald Blomfield R.A., the famous architect and historian and one time president of this institution. He became a member of the Royal Society of Etchers, and his work was a permanent feature in the architectural room of the exhibitions at Burlington House.

For his etchings and watercolors he found subjects not only in his immediate English and Scottish surroundings. Constant travel took him through Italy, Spain, and France to which country especially he showed a lasting attachment. His work mirrors the best of the architecture of nearly the whole of Europe. All this helped to make him one of the well-traveled, well-informed, and well-educated Englishmen whose tradition goes back to Elizabethan times.

Walcot's works show the accuracy of the architect and at the same time the delicate touch of a painter. The buildings are rendered as neatly as on the draughting-table, but never pedantically. At times they are flooded in light, at times submerged in mists; usually they are enlivened by fleeting impressions of daily life, by the fluttering twigs of trees or shrubs; they are part of a whole. Everything is seen with a keen eye and rendered with a firm hand, in a refined, delicate technique which leaves nothing to accident. His watercolors are subdued in tone, judiciously touched here and there with a brighter accent. The sobriety and the objectivity of Walcot's work stem from a profound seriousness and honesty of mind. Yet his prints are more than factual records. A town, a street, a building always are shown as we recall them ourselves. An accidental view seems to contain the essence of the whole. Walcot had an understanding of the over-and undertones of his subjects and appeals to our nostalgia for things seen and then treasured in our memory, be it the severe austerity of the Clyde, the melancholy of a misty day at the Thames in London, the crystalline structure of the streets of New York, or the splendor of Italy. For some of us younger people who are used to a different fare, these works at first may be difficult to see; the effort to understand and to appreciate them will be its own reward.


Author: Ulrich Middeldorf

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