The recent publication of ‘Frederick Walker and the Idyllists’ seeks to reposition this once important group of artists working in the second half of nineteenth-century London. Centred on the figure of the painter and watercolourist Frederick Walker (1840-1875), these artists enjoyed a certain celebrity status during their lifetimes. Together with Walker the other members of this group included George John Pinwell, John William North, George Heming Mason, Robert Walker Macbeth and Cecil Gordon Lawson. Van Gogh admired (and collected) their work and Millais declared Walker to be the “greatest artist of the century”. But their promising careers were cut short by the ultimately deaths of Mason in 1872, Walker and Pinwell in 1875, and Lawson in 1882. Yet despite their short careers the Idyllists exerted a powerful influence on their contemporaries. The seminar will explore their legacy and status in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when their inclusion in large surveys of British art, at home and abroad, was widespread. The Idyllists formed an important bridge between the Pre-Raphaelites of the 1850s and the Neo-Romantics of the 1920s and 1930s and disrupt the widely held perception that Victorian art had a limited part to play in the narrative of twentieth-century British art, and one that challenges the supposed primacy of William Blake.
Dr. Donato Esposito is a freelance art historian specialising in 18th- and 19th century British art, taste and collecting. He was from 1999 to 2004 a curator in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. In 2008–9 he co-curated the exhibition ‘Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Acquisiton of Genius’ at Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery. Recently, his monograph ‘Frederick Walker and the Idyllists’ was published by Lund Humphries. It will serve as the foundation for an exhibition on Walker and his circle planned for 2019, organised by the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT.