Pr. Watercolours Attr. to Louis Rhead – ESK South Kensington Art School c.1880


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An interesting pair of watercolours, possibly painted by Louis Rhead, the successful illustrator of the art nouveau period. Both are in identical whitewashed card borders, with one carrying the blind stamp ‘ESK’, standing for ‘Examined South Kensington’, which was the renowned art school in London, (before becoming the Royal School of Art in 1896). Louis Rhead joined his brother, George Woolliscroft Rhead there circa 1879, following his stints at Minton and Wedgwood as an apprentice.

The painting with the blind stamp appears to be a study of a reading room, whilst the other is a seascape, with two sailing boats on rough water. Both are unframed and have gummed paper to the reverse side. The reading room painting measures 13cm x 15.75cm (image), with the other measuring 12.5cm x 17cm (image). Each mount is 21.5cm x 24.5cm.

These watercolours come from the Rhead-Cronin collection, sold at auction in England in late 2013 and early 2014 – all items were from the estate of Richard Harry Rhead-Cronin, the grandson of Frederick Alfred Rhead, great nephew of Louis & GW Rhead, and nephew of Frederick Hurten Rhead, Harry Rhead & Charlotte Rhead. His mother Marie did not follow the artistic path of her family, and she had moved to Devon during the years of their successes, however her family accumulated many rare examples of their work, as well as assorted ephemera and other items of relevant interest. It’s believed that much of it came from the home in Stoke on Trent where Charlotte Rhead lived, followed by her sister Dollie (in Watlands Avenue, Wolstanton), which was cleared following Dollie’s death in 1981.

For further details, I’ve written a blog on the Rhead-Cronin sales elsewhere:

I’ve placed the pictures at around 1880 – Louis emigrated to America in 1883. It is also possible that they are by his brother George Woolliscroft, who remained in London and eventually became head of the Putney Borough Polytechnic and the Norwood schools of Art. The watercolours are unsigned.

Good overall condition – the painting of the reading room appears to have a water spillage across the middle, with some dark staining evident on close inspection (see photos).