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John George Sowerby
Poppies, Signed Watercolour 19th-Century English Aesthetic Movement




John George Sowerby 1849 - 1914 Poppies Watercolour, signed lower right Image size: 9 x 11 ½ inches Original frame Exhibtion: Royal Academy in 1883 number 978 Provenance: Edward Clark Haslam, JP, Newcastle Thence by family descent This stunning watercolour has a strong Pre-Raphaelite inflence, which can be seen from the attention to detail in the poppies and flowers in the grass also the mediaval subject matter. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1883, this picture depicts in the foreground a stunning display of Oriental poppies, with a fine Tudor building in the background. Poppies are often assoicated with imagination, eternal sleep, but also pleasure and death. Sowerby shows a summers day in the garden of a tudor manor. The young maiden reads, she stands tall and thin with the poppies and like them her youth will last for a fleeting moment as poppies flowers last only ten days. It is likely that the girl in the picture depicts the artist’s elder daughter Githa, an author, who moved to London in 1905 with her sister Millicent, who provided illustrations for Githa's novels. Githa is best-known for writing the play Rutherford & Son, the main protagonist a thinly-veiled portrait of her father and largely based upon the angst she felt for her father’s business failings. Patricia Riley’s book Looking for Githa of 2009 is an interesting insight into the fascinating life of the Sowerby family. The year this was painted was the year Augustus Pitt Rivers takes office as Britain's first Inspector of Ancient Monuments and the same year William Robinson's influential gardening book The English Flower Garden was published. So the public viewing this were in tune to the ideals depicted. John Sowerby was born in Gateshead in 1849, the fourth of six children. As the eldest son he fulfilled the wishes of his father by becoming director of the family firm, Ellison Glass Works, one of the world's largest producers of glass at the time. His brother was also engaged at the firm, and their father considerately arranged marriages for their four sisters that would benefit the Sowerby family both financially and socially. John began as a colour mixer and manager at the firm, and introduced a number of aesthetic innovations that helped boost sales. These included incorporating Arts and Crafts designs for glassware, and introducing vitro-porcelain, an innovation that became very popular in Victorian England. At the time that the Ellison Glass Works became a limited company, in 1882, it covered five and a half acres, and employed about a thousand workers, making it one of the world’s largest mass-producers of glass. Sowerby was very interested in sports, promoting boat racing, boxing and wrestling among the workmen. The death of his father in 1879 probably allowed Sowerby greater artistic freedom and, from that date, he began to exhibit paintings of landscapes and gardens at the Royal Academy, such as this one in 1883 and to illustrate children’s books. His early books included Afternoon Tea, At Home, and At Home Again, all published in the early 1880's. Though his first illustrations were considered derivative of Kate Greenaway, he soon established his own distinctive style. In becoming an artist and illustrator, with a special interest in flowers, he followed in the footsteps of several generations of Sowerbys, many of whom were naturalists, including botanical illustrators. By the early 1880s, the Ellison Glass Works was achieving record sales, and Sowerby and his family were living in comfort in Gateshead. However, he soon began to lose significant amounts of money, he is said to have thrown handfuls of gold sovereigns into the glass-furnace to see how they effected the glass-making process and the board of directors forced him to resign. In 1884, he was declared bankrupt and living in furnished lodgings in Whitby, Yorkshire. Despite this nadir in his fortunes, the firm survived, and even flourished, and he returned as a salaried worker. In 1896, disillusioned by his family business and wanting to pursue a career as a professional painter, he eventually sold the business and moved south. Sowerby's landscapes and floral paintings, while not numerous, were described as showing "a genuine Pre-Raphaelite intensity of vision" (Christopher Wood, Victorian Painting in Oils and Watercolours, 1996). In spring 1909, he held a solo show at the Baillie Gallery, London, entitled ‘Cottages and their Gardens’.


  • Creator
    John George Sowerby (1849 - 1914)
  • Creation Year
  • Dimensions
    Height: 9 in. (22.86 cm)Width: 11.5 in. (29.21 cm)
  • More Editions & Sizes
    9 x 11 1/2 inchesPrice: $8,042
  • Medium
  • Movement & Style
    Aesthetic Movement
  • Period
  • Condition
  • Gallery Location
    London, GB
  • Reference Number
    1stDibs: LU5246110282

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    We recommend this shipping type based on item size, type and fragility.
    Estimated Customs Duties & Taxes to the Continental US: $0.
    Ships From: London, United Kingdom
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