[ Thomas Wilkinson Wallis, wood carver ('the Grinling Gibbons of the 19th century'). ] Eight autograph items: six journal fragments, including eight pages on the 1851 Great Exhibition; description of his 'Trophies of Spring'; letter to his daughter.

Thomas Wilkinson Wallis (1821-1903), wood carver ('the Grinling Gibbons of the 19th century'), sculptor and painter of Louth in Lincolnshire [ The Great Exhibition, 1851 ]
Publication details: 
The letter to his daughter dated from Louth [ Lincolnshire ], 18 October 1884. Description of carving from 1851. Fragments from journal dealing with events in 1837, 1851, 1862 and 1866.
SKU: 18727

Thomas Wilkinson Wallis was the greatest wood carver of Victorian England. Born in impoverished circumstances in Hull, by 1844 he had established his own business in Louth Lincolnshire, and for the 1851 he submitted seven carvings, 'of which ‘Trophy of Spring’ was awarded a medal. It was his most intricate carving, it took him 8 months to complete and was considered to surpass the work of Grinling Gibbons. Wallis also won medals at the 1855 Paris Exhibition and the London Great Exhibition in 1862.' In 1899 – four years before his death – he published his 'Autobiography of Thomas Wilkinson Wallace, Sculptor in Wood, and Extracts from his Sixty Years' Journal'. The eight items are in good condition, on lightly-aged paper. All eight are in Wallis's autograph, and they comprise: six fragments from the original 'Sixty Years' Journal' (reproduced in abridged form in the printed 'Autobiography'), including one of eight foolscap pages covering Wallis's time in London preparing for the Great Exhibition; a description by Wallis of the carving which caused the greatest sensation in 1851, his 'Trophies of Spring', with a list of the many plants depicted in it; and an 1884 Autograph Letter Signed to his daughter Kate, describing his work on a copy of Turner's 'Fighting Temeraire'. The following description is divided into three parts. ONE: Autograph Letter Signed ('T. W. Wallis') to his daughter Kate. Dated 'Louth – 19th. October 1884'. 4pp., 12mo. Bifolium. For the background to this letter see Wallis's 'Autobiography', p.210: 'When my Municipal duties were increased by the appointment of Borough Surveyor I hand [sic] on hand two important Water-colour paintings – Lake Nemi, and the Fighting Temeraire, both the originals being by J. M. W. Turner, R.A. During the Autumn [of 1884] I finished these paintings as far as I could without having further reference to the originals – that of the latter being in the National Gallery.' Wallis begins the letter with reference to a 'roll of Photograph' which his daughter has sent him: 'Your Photographer has thought it best to Vignette the Photo sent of Keston'. Next he turns his attention to his work copying Turner's painting: 'In re Mr Acton [the wine merchant and connoisseur Samuel Poole Acton (d.1885)] – I will tell you now: After spending two or three days at the Gallery [i.e. the National Gallery] getting all I could in pencil and chalk – and the Large sized Photograph of the “Temeraire” I came to the conclusion I should not surmount the difficulty in working out my Copy in Water Colors unless I returned to the Gallery to finish my work, when it was well advanced, or borrow a painting copied from the Original by an artist.' With a view to working from a copy, he has written to the artist Alfred Hartley (1855-1933), whom he encountered at the National Gallery while he was making a small copy of Turner's painting, asking him if he would lend it to him 'for a consideration'. 'He (Mr. A. Hartley of Chelsea) replied it was not his property', having been painted by commission for Acton, whose address Lynton House in Bromley is of interest to Wallis as he has been 'staying in the same town at the same time and working at the same picture'. Acton 'immediately gave his Consent', and Hartley's copy 'is now in my painting room as one of the helps to work out my own'. Wallis continues the letter with a critique of Hartley's painting, and praise of his own, before turning to family matters. TWO: Six Autograph fragments of autobiography, cut from a journal. Neatly and closely written. The main section of autograph, with the first page headed 'AE 30. 1851', consists of eight full pages on two foolscap bifoliums, paginated 155 to 162, with 35 lines to the page. Laid down on the second page are two newspaper cuttings from the Halifax Guardian, 15 March 1851, regarding an exhibition by Wallis's brother Samuel (c.1812-1873). The text of this eight-page fragment is of great interest, as it deals with the rapturous reception accorded to Wallis's work at the Great Exhibition of 1851. An abridged and edited version is printed in Wallis's 'Autobiography' between pp.92 and 97. Among the many omissions from the printed version is Wallis's reaction to the positive response to his work 'Spring': 'Really this seems astounding […] If the jury hold the same opinion I am sure to receive a large Medal.' References in the eight autograph pages to Samuel Wallis are omitted from the published version, as for example when Wallis writes that before leaving for London with his 'Spring', 'In the afternoon I made a large drawing 6ft x 2ft 4 – for the side of a hearse for my brother Samuel: he cant carve these without having working drawings supplied to him.' Another passage omitted from the published version begins with a reference to Wallis's installation of his brother's work within the exhibition building in London: 'I unpacked my brothers Cabinet Carving of a side-board back and fixed in the place allotted for it: and got the packing case led away: that which is told in a few words took several hours to perform. I fix this in the North Gallery and an amateur carver, who was very proud of his work, began to tell me of some rare carving below. I found he was referring to my own!' Another omitted reference is to fellow-exhibitor William Gibbs Rogers (1792-1875): 'Without any intention on my part I seem constantly pitted against the “Queens Carver.” Many seem somewhat disappointed in [Rogers' work] the “Cradle”'. The other five fragments (which again are abridged and edited when reproduced in the published 'Autobiography') are single slips, with writing on both sides, ranging in size from 22.5 x 21 cm to 12 x 18 cm. The five are cut from pieces of the same ruled paper as the eight-page fragment. One of the five, paginated 45-46, deals with events from 1837 (reproduced in 'Autobiography' on pp.27-28, with one long omission including the comment: 'There is much that a man may write in the privacy of a Diary that should never be obtruded on the public.'), another of the five fragments dates from 1862 (with reference to his work for the Great Exhibition of that year), a third from 1866 (concerning his wife's illness), and the other two fragments undated, one of them dealing with the marriage of his daughter to Alfred Kew. THREE: Autograph description of his carving which caused a sensation at the Great Exhibition of 1851, 'The Trophies of Spring', headed 'Catalogue.' 1p., foolscap 8vo. On a bifolium which also includes (again 1p., foolscap 8vo) a 'List of Plants introduced into Spring […] birds, & caterpillars Lambs head & S[hepherd's]. Crook – the numbers of each'. The catalogue description, which ends with a long quotation from Thomson's 'Seasons', reads 'The Apple-blossoms and Grape-buds with accessories (to be carried through the Seasons) There are above 1000 buds and flowers, and about 50 varieties The whole carved out of solid lime tree, from original studies from nature, taken expressly for this work, and for this Exhibition, at a great cost of money & time. [last eight words deleted] I wish to point out the originality of this design for the seasons, and the closeness to nature in the execution of the details.'