Mr Cassidy modelling from life the portrait of Mr. H. Clarence Whaite, PRCA,
after two hours study (from a photograph).

(Henry) Clarence Whaite is celebrated in Wales for his Welsh landscapes, and also for having been an early President of the Royal Cambrian Academy. But, surprisingly, he was born and bred in Manchester, where his father had a banner-painting and picture-framing business, and ran an art gallery. The boy attended Manchester Grammar School before moving on from there to the Manchester School of Design, and then completing his training in London. There he studied at Leigh's School, and the Royal Academy at a time when it was still in Somerset House. He may have visited Wales as early as 1849 (see Lord 286), but it a visit to Switzerland in 1850 is generally credited with firing his enthusiasm for dramatic, mountainous scenery. Certainly, he was seeking inspiration in North Wales by 1852 (see Lord 236). At this point he was still based in Manchester, and indeed he never severed his ties with it. He made an important contribution to the local art scene there through his involvement with the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts (MAFA), of which he was one of the founding members. But he often visited the artistic colony at the little village of Betws-y-Coed in Snowdonia, and eventually, in 1870, settled nearby, close to the coastal town of Conway, with his Welsh wife, Jane Alice Griffiths. There he became a founder member of, and later President, of the Royal Cambrian Society. On the occasion of the Duke and Duchess of York's visit to North Wales in the spring of 1899, he acted as their guide in Conway Castle, and showed them round the Royal Cambrian Society's rooms in the historic Elizabethan house of Plas Mawr, in the town's High Street (see the Times, "The Royal Visit to North Wales"). Nevertheless, he continued to visit Manchester, becoming President of the MAFA in 1892, and holding that position until his death twenty years later.

Plas Mawr, Conwy, home to the
Royal Cambrian Society.

Whaite also kept a studio in London, where he had begun exhibiting at the Royal Academy as early as 1851. In fact, he became as much a part of the London art scene as he was of Manchester's: a painter both in oils and watercolour, he combined his work for the Royal Academy with his participation in the events of the Royal Watercolour Society, and was, additionally, a member of the Hogarth Club. John Ruskin himself took an interest in him, but felt that, like the Pre-Raphaelites whom Whaite admired, he was apt to spend too much time on detail: "The execution of the whole by minute and similar touches is a mistake," Ruskin wrote, in his "Academy Notes" of 1859. Whaite certainly went to great lengths to transcribe exactly what he saw. For instance, when he was painting his well-known work, The Rainbow, he set up a make-shift studio above the road and stayed in Betws-y-Coed for a second long season just to catch "the detail of the spring foliage" (qtd. in Lord 288). His approach was, suggests Peter Lord, part and parcel of his religious outlook: "Whaite's passion for the faithful recording of the details of the natural world, and of the human activities which harmonized with it, was closely related to his Protestantism" (289). A contemporary enlarged on this:

His work is peculiarly the revelation of a personality, of a character, of a temperament, of a faith. The work of most landscape painters tells us but little of the painters themselves, shews one side of them only, and also only one side of Nature. It shews us their sympathy with the sensuous beauty and the physical power of nature. Mr. Whaite is no less keenly alive than others to such beauty and such power. But he is alive to something more.... he shares the feelings towards Nature of Wordsworth, and even of the Psalmist and the Prophet of the Old Testament — with a difference, of course, so far as the latter are concerned, for no age repeats any other age, and with the addition of all that we have learned to see and love in Nature, since the days of the Hebrew poets. [Pythian 2-3]

Fortunately, the wider public responded to his almost mystic vision, in which man carried on his everyday life within the grand design of nature. He had an influence on other artists, too: some critics have even credited his use of "spots of pure colour" to produce his effects with having "originated the idea of Impressionism" ("Henry Clarence Whaite").

One strand of his work tends to be overshadowed by his landscapes: his pleasure in recording the minutiae of that everyday life in such surroundings. Lord admits that the material on this in his notebooks "was not developed as a central theme in his large exhibition paintings" (344); but it was reflected in his watercolours and drawings, and indeed in his collection of artefacts (see Lord 344). — Jacqueline Banerjee



"Henry Clarence Whaite." MAFA (Manchester Academy of Fine Arts). Web. 16 January 2022.

Lord, Peter. Imaging the Nation: The Visual Culture of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000.

Pythian, J. Ernest. "A Phase of the Art of Clarence Whaite." The Manchester Quarterly: A Journal of Literature and Art. Vol. XVIII (1899): 1-8. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 16 January 2022.

"The Royal Visit To North Wales." Times, 29 April 1899: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 January 2022.

Ruskin, John. "Academy Notes. 1859." Complete Works of John Ruskin. Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1904. Vol. XIV: 229-57. Internet Archive. Contributed by the Central Library, Bits-Pilani, India. Web. 16 January 2022.

Further reading

Lord. Peter. The Betws-y-Coed Artists' Colony 1844-1914: Clarence Whaite and the Welsh Art World. Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 1998. (This is difficult to obtain, even though a special limited ed. came out in 2009.)

Created 15 January 2022