Wilfrid de Glehn – The Wiltshire Landscapes
In April 1941, a parachute bomb destroyed 73 Cheyne Walk, the London home and studio where Wilfrid and Jane de Glehn had lived since the beginning of their marriage in 1904...
Wilfrid de Glehn – The Wiltshire Landscapes
In April 1941, a parachute bomb destroyed 73 Cheyne Walk, the London home and studio where Wilfrid and Jane de Glehn had lived since the beginning of their marriage in 1904. As they had relocated at the beginning of WWII to Granchester, near Cambridge, to live with Wilfrid’s brother, they were unharmed. However, the bomb’s impact was so powerful, that although it was centered on Chelsea’s Old Church, some 120 meters away, their home was almost completely destroyed.
This devastating turn of events was to open one last chapter of creativity in Wilfrid’s career, because it impelled the de Glehns to return permanently to Wiltshire, where they had lived earlier in the late 1920s and 1930s. In fact, even in the years prior to the outbreak of WWII, the de Glehns had become ambivalent about remaining in Chelsea. With the death or departure of so many of their close friends and colleagues, including John Singer Sargent, Henry Tonks and Peter Harrison, their formerly strong attachment to the area had waned. So, instead of returning to rent elsewhere in Chelsea, in March of 1942 they moved into The Manor House at Stratford Tony, a small village not far from Wilton, where they had rented the Old Rectory in the 1930s.
Not only did the Manor House boast rolling lawns and lush herbaceous borders, but to Wilfrid’s delight, it backed onto the River Ebble. They immediately took to the country lifestyle and Wilfrid became a keen angler. However, he had no intention of retiring from painting and built a studio on the grounds, where he was to spend much of his last decade when he was not painting en plein air in the surrounding countryside. Although life in the quiet tiny hamlet of Stratford Tony could not have stood in starker contrast to the bustle and sophistication of their Chelsea home, the de Glehns were very happy there, and in fact, Wilfrid once related to his sister Rachel that they would never have been able to afford a comparable home elsewhere.
The energy and joy that Wilfrid took in his new surroundings is clear from the works themselves, which moreover illustrate his return to form as a remarkably captivating landscape painter. He had always favoured a Renoiresque approach to light and form in his work and never relinquished the diffused reflections and strong use of complementary colours, with which his friend Sargent previously had experimented in the last decade of the 19th Century (albeit, in a technique more sympathetic with that of Monet).
Before the move to Stratford Tony, Wilfrid painted several views around Sussex, when, in the 1920s, he and Jane would stay with the pianist, Leonard Borwick at his West Burton home. After 1925, after the deaths of both Borwick and Sargent, Wilfrid and Jane decided to look around Wiltshire for another country retreat, having enjoyed so many fishing trips on the Avon. Around 1932-3, they moved to Wilton, into the aforementioned Old Rectory, and shortly after settling in, began to befriend the locals, including the children’s author, Guy Rawlence. Wilfrid was captivated by Rawlence’s beautiful late 16th Century home at Heale, just north of Salisbury. The house was surrounded by Edwardian italianate gardens designed by the British architect Harold Peto. Here, Wilfrid repeatedly painted the various terraces, fountains, formal gardens and Japanese water meadows. His Heale landscapes often recall Monet’s iconic studies of his own water garden at Giverny, which de Glehn most likely saw at firsthand in 1909 when they were exhibited at Durand-Ruel, London.
After the War, Wilfrid’s deteriorating health made it increasingly difficult for him to travel, but he and Jane still welcomed guests to Stratford Tony. Their neighbour, Cecil Beaton would often walk across the fields to visit, and when Wilfrid was ill (as he increasingly became), would read to him. On one occasion, the legendary photographer even arrived with Greta Garbo in tow. The nine years Wilfrid and Jane lived at Stratford Tony marked one of the most tranquil and yet, productive periods in his career. His many sylvan views of Wiltshire, and the environs of the Rivers Avon and Ebble were acclaimed in their own time and provided the de Glehns with a steady income in Wilfrid's last years. They are also a sunlit testimony just how much Wilfrid managed to retain his remarkable range and diversity as a painter nearly all the way up to his death in 1951.
Andrea Gates, Archivist and Art Historian