In our Modern and Contemporary Art auction on 11 July, we are pleased to be offering a dazzling and serene landscape of the Casino on the Boulogne-sur-Mer by Philip Wilson Steer (Lot 29) which comes fresh to market since 1894.
This is an exciting opportunity for collectors of British impressionists and specifically Steer to purchase a unique work from Steer’s time spent in Boulogne.
Lot 29: Philip Wilson Steer (British 1860-1942), ‘The Casino, Boulogne-Sur-Mer’, Oil on canvas | Est. £50,000-70,000 (+ fees)
"Dreamily delicious is the study of a lighted house seen across the blue and tranquil waters of a summer night."
Quote from Black and White, 10 March 1894, Studio and Gallery, p. 294 [Contemporary Critic]
In 1825, the first casino was built in Boulogne on the shores of the sea, designed by Parisian educated engineer Jules Marguet and called the Palais de Neptune. In 1858 the city purchased the building and made changes, adding a swimming pool and theatre, helping to make it a destination for both locals and foreigners travelling mainly from England. The wealthy English clientele favoured the luxurious baths and the spectacle that developed around Boulogne-Sur-Mer, a popular tourist destination for the bourgeoisie.
Philip Wilson Steer recorded in his sketchbook of 1888, now held at the V&A archives, his trip to Boulogne and in particular his visit to the Casino. His sketch of the present view shows his thought process and ideas for colours as his sketched out the composition as he stood on the boardwalk, even capturing the lights from the Casino shining on the water with small wavy lines. Other studies in the sketchbook show how Steer was playing around with different compositions. In one, he has walked further down the boardwalk towards the church on the hill with figures in the foreground, another is more face on to the casino and shows in more detail the pavilion to the right hand side. The survival of these drawings provides an amazing insight into the artist’s workings out and development of an idea from sketch pad to full scale oil painting.
Sketch of Casino, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Philip Wilson Steer, circa. 1888. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The pink hues and hazy blues lie draped across the canvas. The viewer is drawn to the warmth of the light radiating from inside the casino which captures the hum-drum atmosphere and excitement of the evening ahead. The dazzling light reflects across the water’s edge emphasising the rippling waters as they rush towards the boardwalk edge that cuts diagonally across the lower right corner of the composition. Look closely and small brush marks across the sand show passers-by enjoying a walk at dusk along the shore. These details emphasise the way in which the artist has captured a moment in time whilst maintaining the movement and energy.
Head of Sale, Francesca Whitham comments, "This is a unique opportunity to purchase an exceptional landscape by the renowned British impressionist Philip Wilson Steer which comes fresh to market since 1894. This beautiful depiction of the Casino in Boulogne-sur-Mer captures the dazzling light dancing across the water. It is completely mesmerising."
Philip Wilson Steer
Philip Wilson Steer was one of the founding members of the New English Art Club. Established in 1885 the club was to provide a platform for contemporary artists who had grown dissatisfied with the Royal Academy and its method of teaching from antiquity, rather than the French model of sketching from life. This French approach had grown in popularity amongst many British artists who travelled to France to experience the atelier training and en plein air painting. Initially to be called The Society of Anglo-French Painters, the NEAC embraced the nineteenth century French style of painting, exhibiting mainly landscapes and genre scenes. Impressed by the workings of the French Salon and its elected juries, the NEAC was founded in kind, with an elected selecting committee and without a president. This structure sought to further distinguish the NEAC from other societies of the time, including the Royal Academy.
Steer was born in Birkenhead, Merseyside in 1860. He enrolled at the Gloucester College of Art in 1871 under the tutorage of John Kemp. He studied at South Kensington Drawing School from 1880-1881 applying to the Royal Academy Schools the following year, an application that was firmly rejected. This triggered his departure to Paris where he enrolled at the Academie Julien and in 1883 the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Steer returned to Britain in 1884 with a new energy and determination to open up opportunities for contemporary artists and showcase the styles and techniques that the French were exploring. Steer is known today as one of the leading British Impressionists.
By 1893, Steer was himself a teacher of art taking up a post as professor at the Slade School of Art alongside Frederick Brown and Henry Tonks, which went hand in hand with the growing reputation and popularity of the NEAC.
The NEAC developed a strong relationship with David Croal Thomson, founder of The Goupil Gallery whose support proved essential for the development and growth of these British artists working in the style of their European neighbours. Artists such as Philip Wilson Steer, Walter Sickert and Frederick Brown were invited to display their works at an exhibition labelled the ‘London Impressionists'. This exhibition in 1889 was a pivotal moment that increased the market prominence of these artists and attracted publicity for both the Goupil Gallery and the NEAC members.
The Goupil Gallery remained an important platform for contemporary artists described in 1894 as ‘the recognised headquarters of the advanced painters of London', including Philip Wilson Steer who was given the opportunity to present his first one-man exhibition in 1894. Casino, Boulogne-Sur-Mer was lent to this significant exhibition by Thomas Humphry Ward and proved to be one of the highlights.
The critic for the Pall Mall Gazette, praised the work for its ‘Decorative charm of colour’  and in the Black and White publication as ‘Dreamily delicious is the study of a lighted house seen across the blue and tranquil waters of a summer night’ . The exhibition was critiqued for a lack of individuality so heavily influenced by the masters ‘so various as Degas, Monet, and Whistler is seen upon his canvas,’ ‘At present he is as one speaking half a dozen languages, each with a foreign accent’ . Nonetheless, he was praised for breaking away from the ‘bondage of British Art: he wears the fetters of intelligence' . The exhibition was reviewed and complimented with enthusiasm including one review by Walter Sickert. The painting has not been seen by the public since this exhibition in 1894 and has remained in private hands until now.
Casino, Boulogne-sur-Mer. Private Collection. Look and Learn. Elgar Collection. Bridgeman Images
Casino, Boulogne-Sur-Mer was painted in 1892 following a trip to Boulogne in 1888. Influenced by his French counterparts, who became known as the Impressionists, we can make direct comparisons from the techniques and ideals to these artists such as Monet and Sisley. Steer has captured the changing light and shifting weather, painting exactly what the eye saw and not what it expected to see. He has used loose, short brushstrokes that together give an overall impression and a vibrancy of colour. Steer has chosen to paint a scene of contemporary life and the urban environment which went against the traditional teachings of the Salon and the Royal Academy. As a prominent figure within the NEAC, Steer sought to lead the way teaching the same seditious school of thought as their French counterparts that sought to emulate their style.
The work was purchased by Thomas Humphry Ward, most likely directly from Steer and certainly before 1894 when Ward lent the work to the Goupil Gallery exhibition. Thomas Humphry Ward was an art critic for The Times and author of publications such as English Art in the Public Galleries of London (1888) and George Romney (1904). However, he is best known unusually during this time, for his marriage to the renowned novelist Mary Augusta Ward. The couple had three children; Dorothy Mary Ward (1874-1964), Arnold Sandwith Ward (1876-1950) and Janet Penrose Trevelyan (1879-1956). According to Bruce Laughton’s 1971 publication, the ownership of the work following Humphrey Ward’s death passed to ‘Mrs. Sandwith.’ However, Arnold Sandwith Ward never married.
To read more from specialist Kenneth McConkey, click here.
View page turning catalogue
Tuesday 11 July, 1pm BST
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
Browse the auction
Sign up to email alerts
- Dreweatts London (highlights) | 16-17 Pall Mall, St James’s, London SW1Y 5LU
- Tuesday 27 June: 10am – 4pm
- Wednesday 28 June: 10am - 4pm
- Thursday 29 June: 10am - 4pm
- Donnington Priory (full sale):
- Friday 7 July: 10am - 4pm
- Sunday 9 July: 10am - 3pm
- Monday 10 July: 10am - 4pm
- Tuesday 11 July: from 8.30am
- Dreweatts Remote Viewing | Available from Friday 7 July
- Dreweatts 360 Virtual Auction Tour of highlights | Available from Wednesday 28 June
 Pall Mall Gazette, Tuesday 27 February 1894, Exhibition Review, R.A.M.S, p. 3
 Black and White, 10 March 1894, Studio and Gallery, p. 294
 The National Observer, Saturday 3 March 1894, Exhibition Review, A Modern Painter, p. 396
 The National Observer, Saturday 3 March 1894, Exhibition Review, A Modern Painter, p. 396