Boyce was a watercolour painter of landscapes and vernacular architecture. In the 1850s and 1860s he was a close friend and patron of Rossetti, and his published Diaries are an invaluable source of information about Rossetti and his circle.
Boyce trained as an architect, which accounts for his skill in rendering buildings. However, a meeting with the watercolourist David Cox in August 1849 led him to give up architecture for painting. For approximately the next five years his works show the influence of Cox's broad technique before he developed his own more meticulous and idiosyncratic style under the influence of Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites. He met Thomas Seddon in 1849, Rossetti at about the same time and Hunt and Millais in 1853. Ruskin took an interest in his work and advised him to go to Venice in 1854 and probably to Switzerland in 1856. Boyce also painted in Dinan with Seddon in 1853 and in Egypt with Frank Dillon in 1861 and 1862. In 1862 Boyce took over Rossetti's lodgings at Blackfriars following the death of Rossetti's wife. Continuing admiration for Rossetti led Boyce to commission a house from Philip Webb (architect to William Morris and George Howard) near Rossetti's home in Chelsea.
Boyce exhibited oils and watercolours at the Royal Academy irregularly between 1853 and 1861. He was also a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition society, the Hogarth Club. However his main venue was the Old Watercolour Society to which he was elected Associate in 1864 (at the same time as Burne-Jones) and Member in 1878. He retired in 1893 through ill health. His works either pleased or disconcerted reviewers because they avoided what was conventionally picturesque in subject and treatment. As the Art Journal's reviewer of the Old Watercolour Society wrote in 1865: 'We ... regret that Mr. Boyce should systematically choose subjects having nothing in them, scenes which are, in fact, common-place to the last degree; such for example as that near Abinger (263) which consists of nothing more than a marshy field, a copse, a cow and a rook, thrown together without the slightest composition. Certainly, all preconceived ideas as to the poetry of nature are here set wholly at nought' (Art Journal, 1865). It is precisely this freshness of approach that delights modern viewers. The first exhibition ever devoted to Boyce's work was held at the Tate Gallery in 1987. — Hilary Morgan
Morgan, Hilary and Nahum, Peter. Burne-Jones, The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989.
Last modified 12 June 2020