Wallis’s illustrations of Persian ceramics. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

In the 1870s, and possibly even earlier, Wallis had started to deal in ceramics and other decorative objects and this activity became even more important in the 1880s. Whatever influence being a member of the Hogarth Club may have had on Wallis’s future artistic career, membership there had brought him into contact with collectors of European and Oriental works of ceramic art and had likely initiated his interest. In the 1850s and 1860s Wallis made trips to France and to Spain and had become fascinated by what is called Spanish-Moresque ware. By the 1870s W. M. Rossetti remarked that Wallis was the owner of a substantial collection of this kind of art: “Friday 7 February [1873]. Spent the evening by invitation at Wallis’s at Red Lion Square.…Wallis has a very fine show of Spanish-moresque lustreware.” (Bornand, Diary of W. M. Rossetti, 236-237).

Wallis’s illustrations of Persian ceramics.

During his many trips throughout Italy Wallis became a passionate lover of majolica (faience) and of Renaissance art. His many travels may have influenced his move away from painting in oils towards watercolours. He not only collected ceramic pieces for himself, but also sold many examples to museums, which would have helped to finance his journeys. In his later years in particular he traveled widely and painted in such diverse places as Spain, Italy, Sicily, and Egypt. By this time he was increasingly painting Orientalist subjects consistent with his travels. Wallis was the Honorary Secretary of the Committee for the Preservation of St. Mark’s, Venice, from 1879-1882, a member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and a member and secretary for the Society for the Preservation of the Monuments of Ancient Egypt.

Wallis was an expert on, and a collector of, Italian Renaissance and Middle Eastern ceramics, including Byzantine, Persian, Egyptian and Greek. He published some twenty monographs that he either wrote or edited on such ceramics between 1885-1905. Later in life, Wallis was a member of the Burlington Fine Arts Club (BFAC) in Savile Row where exhibitions were held twice a year and where one could meet likeminded people connected to the arts, such as Whistler, Ruskin, and the Rossettis, and fellow collectors. Wallis’s collection of decorative arts had become so valuable and important that he would lend pieces to major exhibitions.

Left: Jar, made in Manises, Spain, about 1625-1700, tin-glazed earthenware with lustre decoration. Formerly Henry Wallis Collection. Height: 17cm. Diameter: 19.5cm. V& A accession no. 7-1907.. Middle: Pottery: fragment of a white-ground lekythos: seated woman, woman with baby, man. Attributed to: The Bosanquet Painter Attic culture, Greece, c. 440 BC. Diameter: 15.85 centimetres. Purchased from Henry Wallis. British Museum number 1905,0710.10. Right: Drug jar, made in Paterna or Manises, Spain, about 1450, tin-glazed earthenware. Formerly Henry Wallis Collection. V&A accession no. 48-1907

For the 1885 show of Arab and Persian art held at the Burlington Fine Arts Club Wallis lent twenty-five pieces. These covered the whole range of items exhibited including ceramic tiles and specially classified lustreware, as well as metal work, ivory and carved wood, a rug, and a manuscript page. This was his first involvement in organising an exhibition for which he also wrote the catalogue. Because of Wallis’s contacts with eminent scholars and archaeologists, he later helped the Burlington Fine Arts Club organise an important exhibition on “The Art of Ancient Egypt.” Wallis wrote the general introduction to the catalogue and contributed more than 400 works to the show, including vases and bowls, heads of statues, finger rings, ushabtis, pectorals and more than fifty pottery specimens.

Left: Glazed composition plate with narrow rim. The centre contains an antelope on a background of foliage. This central image is surrounded by two concentric line borders and then a wave-form pattern. The decoration has been incised and painted with manganese, on a white ground; the rim and underside have been glazed in turquoise. Egypt, possibly Memphis, Roman Period. This piece initially formed part of the ancient Egyptian collection owned by Reverend William MacGregor; the collection was painted and published by the painter Henry Wallis in 1898. Although most of MacGregor's collection was put up for sale at Sotheby's, from June 26th – July 6th 1922, this piece was not included in the sale. It was then in the collection of Wallis, and so it must have been given to or bought by him from Macgregor some time between 1898 and 1922. The dish found its way into the collection of the Paris based dealer Georges Tabbagh, from whom the V&A purchased it in 1926. V&A accession no. C.208-1926. Middle: Dish, made in Seville or Valencia, Spain, about 1550-1600, tin-glazed earthenware. Formerly Henry Wallis Collection Height: 9.1cm Diameter: 47.3cm. V&A accession no. 54-1907. Right: Dish. Made of black, blue underglaze pottery. Iran, Ilkhanid dynasty. Diameter: 19 centimetres (rim) (rim). Height: Height: 5 centimetres. Formerly in the collection of Henry Wallis. British Museum number 1888,0413.3

A number of artists within the Pre-Raphaelite circle collected ceramics. D. G. Rossetti and J. M. Whistler owned important collections of blue and white Japanese and Chinese porcelain. Frederic Leighton collected Islamic pottery from Iran, Turkey and Syria, and lined the famous Arab Hall in his house in Holland Park with rare tiles from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, primarily from Damascus. Lawrence Alma-Tadema, William Holman Hunt, and William Bell Scott also collected antique ceramics. None, however, reached the same status of collector/connoisseur when compared to Wallis. Wallis’s lasting contributions to art included not just his paintings but also the many books he wrote and lectures he gave on ancient ceramics, on which his contemporaries recognised him as an expert. After Wallis’s death, the major part of his ceramics collection was split between the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He had also sold works from his collections to these two institutions during his lifetime.


Bornand, Odette Ed. The Diary of W.M. Rossetti. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Gadoin, Isabelle. “Henry Wallis, du peintre préraphaélite au spécialiste en céramique islamique.” In Gadoin, Isabelle and Marie-Elise Palmier-Chatelain. Rêver d'Orient, connaître l’Orient. Lyon: ENS Editions, 2008, 77-97.

Gadoin, Isabelle. Private Collectors of Islamic Art in Late Nineteenth-Century London: The Persian Ideal. London: Routledge, 2021.

Joukovsky, Nicholas A. “The Early Meredithian Milieu: New Evidence form Letters of Peter Augustin Daniel.” Studies in Philology XV (Summer 2018): 615-64.

Lessens, Ronald and Dennis T. Lanigan. Henry Wallis. From Pre-Raphaelite Painter to Collector/Connoisseur. Woodbridge: ACC Art Books, 2019.

Wilson, Timothy. "A Victorian artist as ceramic-collector: The letters of Henry Wallis”. Journal of the History of Collections 14 (2002) 139-59 & 231-69.

Last modified 18 October 2022