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Sidney Richard Percy (1821-1886) was an English landscape painter during the Victorian era, and a member of the Williams family of painters, the Barnes School*.
Sidney Richard Percy was born Sidney Richard Percy Williams in 1821 in London. He was the fifth son of the painter Edward Williams (1781-1855) and Ann Hildebrandt (c.1780-1851), and a member of the Williams family of painters, who were related to such famous artists as James Ward, R.A. and George Morland. His father was a well-known landscape artist, who taught him how to paint; otherwise he received no formal instruction. Although his early paintings were signed "Sidney Williams", he used the name "Percy" from the age of 20 onwards to differentiate himself from the other artists in his family. Starting in 1842, he exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London* (65 works), the British Institution (48 works), and the Suffolk Street Gallery of the Society of British Artists* (67 works). He also exhibited in many of the lesser-known Victorian art venues as well.
His early years were spent in or near the artist's quarter of Tottenham Court, before moving about 1846 with his family to Barnes on the outskirts of London. Here he lived and worked with his father and brothers in a communal artist setting in a large house with a studio that they shared at 32 Castelnau Villas. Barnes today is part of the urban sprawl of London, but much of it was rural countryside in Victorian times. Situated close to the Thames River, there were quiet marshes beneath windmills, farms where horses pulled plows, and wheel-rutted dirt roads running past country inns or through shaded glens. These were the scenes that the Williams brothers captured on canvas during their early years as painters, but as Sidney Richard Percy matured as a landscape painter he increasingly sought his inspiration in Northern Wales, Devon, Yorkshire, the Lake District and Skye.
He moved after his 1857 marriage to the Florence Villas on Inner Park Road in Wandsworth, Surrey, and then moved his family about 1863 to Hill House in the village of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Hill House was well-placed for painting forays into the English countryside, situated as it was across from the Misbourne Valley. He was extremely popular during these years, which brought him sufficient income to indulge the extravagant tastes of his wife, which included a carriage and several servants.
Percy traveled in 1865 to Venice with his friend and neighbor the water colour artist William Callow (1812-1908), and returned visiting Switzerland and Paris. Although war between Prussia and Austria in 1866 put an end to these travels, he returned home to ample artistic inspiration in the Welsh countryside, where he spent many days painting in and around the villages of Llanbedr and Arthog, on either side of the Mawddach estuary in Merioneth. He also made painting forays to the Scottish Highlands.
He spent his final years at Mulgrave Road in Sutton, Surrey, where his knee was injured when he was thrown from a horse in a riding accident. When his leg had to be amputated as a consequence, he died prematurely on 13 April 1886 at his home of a heart attack due complications from the operation. Though once quite wealthy, his finances at the time of his death were no longer robust, and his widow had to be supported in her final years by her son-in-law.
Sidney Richard Percy Williams married Emily Charlotte Fairlam (1835-1904), the daughter of Richard Fairlam, on 30 June 1857 in the Barnes Parish Church. He and Emily had four children.
Sidney Richard Percy had his greatest success painting landscapes of grazing cattle, typically set against backgrounds of distant mountains and cloudy skies. The prevailing hues of his landscapes are earth tones and soft greens, accentuated by a variety of pastel hues. The detail in his work is part of its appeal, and "it was remarked that his rocks and stones were sufficiently accurate to have served as illustrations to the writings of Sir Roderick Murchison, the popular 19th-century geologist." Llyn-y-Ddinas, North Wales, one his more popular works on the internet, displays these qualities. He also painted landscapes of farm fields, wheel-rutted country roads, and the occasional boat scene on a lake.
His art interests were not limited to painting, and he was also an amateur photographer, in a day when photography was new and exciting, yet still a poorly understood medium. He frequently used his own photographs of gypsies in the Barnes or Wimbledon Common as the basis for similar figures in his paintings, even though some contemporary critics complained how these figures ruined what otherwise would be delightful landscapes.
Although he generally painted in oils, a number of small watercolors on cardboard exist, typically unsigned, that are his work. The family, and his son the painter Herbert Sidney Percy in particular, referred to these as "potboilers", meaning that they were quickly, and often crudely executed, yet easily and cheaply sold "to put food on the table" when working on larger, more time-consuming oils for exhibition, or commissions. Many of these watercolor "potboilers" were done in the field, and then brought back to the studio to refer to when executing a more formal oil on canvas.
Sidney Richard Percy was extremely popular during the early part of his career, which for a short time brought him a fair amount of income. Among his patrons during this time was Prince Albert the Royal consort who in 1854 gave Percy's landscape of A view of Llyn Dulyn, North Wales, which had just been exhibited at the Royal Academy, as a gift to his wife Queen Victoria. This painting still hangs today in the Royal Collection. Unfortunately Sidney Richard Percy outlived his popularity, and the art world was more excited about impressionism and other styles than landscapes when he died. Today though, his work is much sought after, and his better paintings bring much higher prices in auction than any of those of his brethren in the Williams family.
When the Athenaeum in 1886 ran an obituary for Sidney Richard Percy they called him, "the well-known and popular painter, founder of the so-called School of Barnes . . ." Although depending on the context of what is meant by the so-called Barnes School, this is a bit of an injustice to his father Edward Williams, whom it might be argued is the founder of the Barnes School of painters, but it illustrates the popularity that Sidney Richard Percy held with the art-buying public of his day.
Reynolds, Jan (1975), The Williams Family of Painters, Antique Collectors Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, p. 35-36.
"Sidney Richard Percy", Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Richard_Percy (Accessed 5/10/2013)
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