Phillip Wilson Steer

Phillip Wilson Steer (1860-1942)

The influential English painter and critic, Roger Fry (1866–1934), called Philip Wilson Steer one of the “most gifted and purest of English artists.” Born in Birkenhead, England, in 1860, Steer’s early interest in painting was encouraged by his father, the English portrait painter Philip Steer. After being rejected by the Royal Academy in 1882, Steer traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and at the École des Beaux-Arts under Alexandre Cabanel. Upon failing a French language exam, he returned to England in 1884, set up a studio in London, and took the first of what would become regular summer painting trips. His early work, such as Girl at a Well, was done in the tradition of “rustic naturalism,” a painting style that depicted the daily life of the rural poor as its subject matter. Before long, though, Steer began making luminous paintings of Walberswick on the Suffolk coast that showed the influence of Édouard Manet, James McNeill Whister, and the French Impressionists.

These paintings earned him recognition as one of Britain’s leading Impressionists, though critics wrote excoriating reviews of the work, and few of the pieces sold. Steer considered abandoning painting altogether. Instead, around 1895, he began making radically different paintings in a more traditional English style. His landscapes and figures from this period both showcase his remarkable skill and harken back to the style of an earlier era, especially next to his Impressionist works, employing as they do conventions used by painters such as John Constable and Antoine Watteau.

Around 1927, when Steer was 67, he experienced the first symptoms of macular degeneration when, as his biographer Ysanne Holt describes, “vision from the center of his left eye was obscured and objects could only be made out from one side.” He had used both watercolors and oils for most of his career, but, upon the decline of his vision, began using watercolors almost exclusively to create landscape paintings that, though radically different from his luminous early works, rival them in mysteriously capturing some ephemeral sense of the elemental. Around 1935, after years of gradual decline, his right eye also succumbed. He continued to paint seascapes using watercolor until 1938. Time has singled out these last paintings, as well as the early paintings he did at Walberswick, as his best work.

Steer served as a painting tutor at the Slade School of Art from 1893 to 1930, where he influenced generations of young artists. He was the subject of the first retrospective of a living artist at the Tate Gallery in 1929, and was awarded the Order of Merit in 1931.

1 Philip Wilson Steer 1881 What of the War 1881 oil on canvas 915x677mm .jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, What of the War, 1881. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-what-of-the-war-n05618

2 Philip Wilson Steer 1887 The Swiss Alps at the Earl's Court Exhibition 1887 oil on canvas 641x762.jpg

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Philip Wilson Steer, The Swiss Alps at the Earl's Court Exhibition, 1887. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-the-swiss-alps-at-the-earls-court-exhibition-n05375

3 Philip Wilson Steer 1888 Girls Running_Walberswick Pier oil on canvas 629x927mm.jpg

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Philip Wilson Steer, Girls Running, Walberswick Pier, 1888. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-girls-running-walberswick-pier-n06008

4 Philip Wilson Steer 1888-9 Figures on the Beach, Walberswick 1888-9 oil on canvas 610x610mm .jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, Figures on the Beach, Walberswick, 1888-9. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-figures-on-the-beach-walberswick-n05766

5 Philip Wilson Steer 1891 Mrs Cyprian William and her Two Little Girls 1891 oil on canvas 762x1022mm.jpg

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Philip Wilson Steer, Mrs Cyprian William and her Two Little Girls, 1891. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-mrs-cyprian-williams-and-her-two-little-girls-n04422

6 Philip Wilson Steer 1905-6 The Music Room 1905-6 oil on canvas 1022x1270mm .jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, The Music Room, 1905-6. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-the-music-room-n02872

7 Philip Wilson Steer 1912 The White Yacht 1912 oil on canvas 613x920mm .jpg

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Philip Wilson Steer, The White Yacht, 1912. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-the-white-yacht-n06185

8 Philip Wilson Steer 1915 Painswick Beacon 1915 oil on canvas 610x914mm.jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, Painswick Beacon, 1915. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-painswick-beacon-n03884

9 Philip Wilson Steer 1919 Farmyard 1919 watercolour on paper 241x349mm.jpg

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Philip Wilson Steer, Farmyard, 1919. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-farmyard-n03508

10 Philip Wilson Steer 1919-21 Bathsheba 1919-21 oil on canvas 660x508mm .jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, Bathsheba, 1919-21. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-bathsheba-n04462

11 Philip Wilson Steer 1922 Mrs. Raynes 1922 oil on canvas 686x559mm.jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, Mrs. Raynes, 1922. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-mrs-raynes-n03803

12 Philip Wilson Steer 1929 Paddlers 1929 watercolour on paper 235x340mm .jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, Paddlers, 1929. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-paddlers-n04546

13 Philip Wilson Steer 1932 Low Tide, Greenhithe 1932, watercolour on paper, 222x305mm.jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, Low Tide, Greenhithe, 1932. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-low-tide-greenhithe-t00126

14 Philip Wilson Steer 1932 The Landing Stage, Greenhithe 1932 watercolour on paper 241x311mm .jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, The Landing Stage, Greenhithe 1932. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-the-landing-stage-greenhithe-n05891

15 Phillip Wilson Steer 1933 On the River Blackwater, Maldon, 1933 watercolour on paper, 225x308mm.jpg

Media Folder: 
Philip Wilson Steer, On the River Blackwater, Maldon, 1933. Copyright Tate, CC-NC-ND 3.0, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/steer-on-the-river-blackwater-maldon-n05890

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