George Pinwell


George John Pinwell

George John Pinwell 1842 – 1875


Pinwell was born at Wycombe, and educated at Heatherley’s Academy. He is perhaps the most interesting personality in Idyllist group. He was without question one of the most original and gifted draugtsman and book illustrators of his day and had he been spared he may have assumed a more prominent position in British Art.

Along with North and Walker, Pinwell’s beginnings were humble. In 1863 his first drawing appeared in Once a Week and from that time his work was in constant demand. His illustrations can be found in many of the periodicals of the 1860s – Good Words, The Sunday Magazine, The Quiver and London Society. However, it is in the Dalziel brothers Gift Books that his best work is to be found. His energetic illustrations accompanying Goldsmith, Jean Ingelow’s poems, Robert Buchanan’s Ballads and the Arabian Nights are quite remarkable in terms of qual;ity and sheer quantity.

Pinwell’s paintings are often characterised by an enamel like brightness and jewel-like quality. This is perhaps most pronounced in his historical scenes – the Pied Piper of Hamelin and Gilbert a Becket’s Troth. However, on occasion he could adopt a more fluid and spontaneous technique of dazzling and colouful intensity.

Pinwell became acquainted with John North at Whymper’s studios and the two became close friends travelling and working together in Somerset. In his biography, Williamson reproduces photos of Pinwell sitting on the Old Cross at Crowcombe and another lying in grass at Axmouth. The two men stayed at Halsway on the edge of the Quantock Hills and the C15 Manor House and its rustic environs featured frequently in their work of the late 60s. Pinwell was often induced to add figures to North’s works and one may suspect this may have been the case in a work by North of Halsway known as the Bowling Green.

Walker and Pinwell were never on such terms and indeed there is some evidence of antipathy on Walker’s part (despite North protestations). It is only through their work as illustrators and close association with North that the two are now talked of as a part of an Idyllist group, a group that never existed in a physical sense during their lives.

In 1874 Pinwell fell seriously ill and went to Africa for the winter. He painted several remarkable pictures at Tangier, but his condition did not improve and he returned to die in his wife’s arms on the 8th of September 1875. Pinwell was an exhibitor at the Dudley gallery, and in 1869 was elected associate of the Royal Water-Colour Society and full member in 1870; to this gallery he contributed fifty-nine works. A posthumous exhibition of his work was held in 1876.

Pinwell is more difficult to evaluate than either North or Walker. His works are less numerous but more eclectic. From the first frenetic lines of his book illustrations through the stagey Pre-Raphaelite influenced historical dramas to the intimate and colourful watercolour sketches: through all can be traced a thread of uncommon genius.

See Life of George J. Pinwell, by George C. Williamson, 1900.


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