Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance
The artistic heart of West Cornwall's history

The Old Pilot

Watercolour on paper

William John Wainwright

1855 - 1931

With his fellow Birmingham artist Walter Langley, William Wainwright was one of the first to visit Newlyn, spending a brief period in the village in 1881.  He did not settle at that time, but is one of those photographed as part of the core group of artists in 1884.



William John Wainwright - 1855 - 1931

Birmingham-born William Wainwright was educated at Sedgley Park College, near Wolverhampton.  Aged 14, he left to be apprenticed as a stained glass designer at John Hardman & Co.  They nurtured his artistic potential and in 1880 they supported him to study painting in Antwerp under Verlat. From Antwerp he went on to Paris in 1881, where he continued with his studies until 1884.

Returning to Britain, Wainwright lived in London for a time while looking for new painting grounds.  With encouragement from Walter Langley, Edwin Harris and Charles Napier Hemy, he decided to settle in Newlyn (which he had first visited in 1881) and is one of the painters in the 1884 group photographs of the ‘brotherhood’.

Although Wainwright enjoyed living and working in Newlyn, the brightness of the sunlight affected his eyesight, causing him eventually to lose the sight in one eye.  He also decided that he preferred figure painting in his studio, so he abandoned plein air painting and the Newlyn School style. 

In 1886 he returned to live in Birmingham, where, four years later, he married Bertha Mary Powell, with whom he had eight children. He was one of the founding members of the Birmingham Art Circle. Wainwright died on 1 August, 1931, age 76 in Birmingham .