William A. Breakspeare

British, b.1856, d.1914

The Well

  • 1883
  • Oil on wood panel
  • Presented by the family of James Jamieson 1932
  • 220 x 315 x 35mm
  • 70/45

Leaving behind an apprenticeship as a decorator in Birmingham’s japanning trade, William Arthur Breakspeare commenced his serious art training at the Birmingham Government School of Design in 1877, aged twenty-two. Two years later he became a founding member of the Birmingham Art Circle and spent time in Paris, before studying in 1880–1 at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, with other British painters including Frank Bramley. Breakspeare returned to England in 1881, settling in Haverstock Hill in London; he began showing at the major exhibitions and galleries in 1883. Further travels included a stay in Italy in 1883, when he painted this work. Bramley, who was there at this time, wrote to another friend that Breakspeare ‘was working hard on the small island of Burano (Bay of Venice) and liked Venice very much.’ Breakspeare also spent time at the fledgling artist colony at Newlyn, Cornwall, in 1884, but London was his principal base.

(The Weight of Sunlight, 16 September 2017 - 16 September 2018)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • The shaded courtyard and the warmly aged stonework of the buildings all add to the tranquillity of this scene of a woman pausing by the well. Even her clothes are classical in style, reinforcing the idealised nature of William Breakspeare’s painting. The Well is painted in a precise academic manner, with attention to detail. Breakspeare’s classical genre paintings were influenced by his training under Charles Verlat (1824 -1890) at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Art. Breakspeare trained at the Birmingham School of Art and, in 1879, was a foundation member of the Birmingham Art Circle, together with Walter Wainwright (1855 -1931). During 1880 and 1881 both studied at the Antwerp Academy, along with fellow Birmingham artist, Edwin Harris (1856 -1906), who was to remain a lifelong friend, and Frank Bramley (1857 -1915). Breakspeare also studied in Paris. When he returned to Britain he spent some time based at Newlyn, in Cornwall. He settled in London and began exhibiting at the major galleries in 1883 and the Royal Academy from 1891 to 1914. (Label date unknown)