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Lady Ottoline Morrell 1873–1938Walter Taylor (February 16, 1860 – June 15, 1943) was a watercolour painter. He remains, as he was in his own lifetime, a relatively unknown artist, remembered chiefly for his enduring friendship with his exact contemporary Walter Sickert.

Taylor was born in Leeds on 16 February 1860, and was educated privately owing to ill health. His father was a successful tobacco manufacturer and Taylor had a privileged upbringing. Taylor’s father was persuaded to sell his shares in Wills Tobacco, convinced by his financial advisors that the passion for cigarettes would not last.

Taylor never had to earn a living and, although he undertook training as an architect, his considerable private income meant that he never practised and instead went to art school in Paris and to the Royal College of Art in London. He subsequently lived an affluent life, devoting his time to painting and travelling, and it was during time spent in France that he first met Sickert.

In 1899 Taylor married Hylda Matheson, but, tragically, she died on their honeymoon. In 1910 he moved from Hastings in Sussex along the coast to Brighton, where he lived and worked for over a decade. He also kept a house in London, which enabled him to maintain links with the capital’s art scene.

In 1911 he held his first solo exhibition at the prestigious Grafton Galleries. From 1915 he kept a studio at 18 Fitzroy Street.

Taylor was never an official member of the Camden Town Group but he operated in a modest way on the periphery of Sickert’s circle. In October 1911 he shared an exhibition at the Carfax Gallery with a fellow watercolourist, Douglas Fox Pitt (1864–1922). His work was also included in the Exhibition of the Work of English Post-Impressionists, Cubists and Others at the Public Art Galleries, Brighton, December 1913–January 1914. This exhibition, organised by Spencer Gore, marked a transitional stage between the Camden Town Group and the London Group. Gore’s son Frederick recalled that his father stayed with Taylor in Brighton during 1913 and that Taylor was on friendly terms with a member of Brighton Town Council. This possibly explains why the exhibition was held in Brighton rather than London.
In 1914 Taylor’s connections with London’s avant-garde were more formally recognised when he was elected to the newly formed London Group. He remained an active participant until 1934 and served as Treasurer during 1916–18. He also exhibited with Lucien Pissarro and James Bolivar Manson’s Monarro Group during the 1920s. Taylor most often painted landscapes or architectural subjects and his post-war watercolours look very like those of his close friend and colleague, Fox Pitt; both men painted with flat blocks of colour applied within a bold charcoal outline. In reaction to the modern European paintings which he loved to collect, Taylor’s style later became freer with brighter, rich colours. His work never attracted much attention, but he continued to paint and occasionally exhibit until the 1930s. Sickert wrote the preface to an exhibition of Taylor’s watercolours at R.E.A. Wilson Gallery, London, in November 1932 in which he praised the artist’s ability to ‘pick off the quintessence of a scene’ as ‘a rare and precious achievement’.

To his contemporaries Taylor always seemed old. The writer Osbert Sitwell said that with his ‘red face and white imperial, his prominent nose, slow movements, leisurely gait, and with a little the air of a seaside dandy, [Taylor] appeared always to be elderly. Everything about him seemed to be leisurely, not least so his voice, with something of an inescapable boredom in its slow, single-toned unemphatic flow.’ Yet his old-fashioned nature and premature seniority were tempered by a love of the modern in art and literature.

AA friend Marjorie Lilly described him as ‘prey to the rage for the day after tomorrow’. The critic W.J. Turner recalled that he was a ‘reserved and taciturn man but though silent he was genial, and an ideal host who stimulated conversation as he much appreciated wit and was thoroughly well-read’. Apparently Taylor only had one eye, although this does not seem to have affected his enthusiasm for painting.

Spencer Gore’s son, Frederick, recollected that, following an amusing incident arising from Taylor’s affection for ‘a famous lady who ran an uproarious hotel in Duke Street (caricatured by Evelyn Waugh as Lottie Crump in Vile Bodies)’, he was dubbed ‘Can eye Taylor’. The artist Fred Mayor (1865–1916) and the writer Arnold Bennett (1867–1931) apparently listened at a locked door while Taylor wooed the object of his affection, imploring her, ‘Can I, can I ...?’ The Chilean artist Alvaro Guevara (1894–1951) painted a portrait of Taylor in 1918. It was hailed as one of Guevara’s most successful works and was sold to the Contemporary Art Society in 1936, but its whereabouts are now unknown.

Taylor died on 15 June 1943 aged eighty-three. The Leicester Galleries staged a memorial exhibition of his work in April 1944. Many of his watercolours are still in private hands but examples of his painting can be seen in the collection of Brighton and Hove Museums. In addition, many works from his collection by Camden Town Group and other modern British artists have since found their way into public collections.

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