William Evelyn Osborn - Regent Street, London

William Evelyn Osborn - Regent Street, London




Regent Street, London


Oil on canvas

51 by 61 cm., 20 by 24 in.

(frame size 73 by 83.5 cm., 28 ¾ by 33 in.)


Brian Sewell.

William Evelyn Osborn was born in St Pancras, London, the eldest son of Edward Osborn, a government factory inspector.  Osborn first visited St Ives in 1891 and was an early member of the St Ives Arts Club.  In 1896 he married the St Ives artist Dorothy Worden.  In the early 1900s they made a permanent return to London, living in Chelsea, where he became a close friend of Paul Maitland and mixed with other Chelsea artists.  In Chiaroscuro (1952) Augustus John wrote about meeting Osborn in a Chelsea restaurant and discusses the artist’s restrained palette:

   “In the corner by the fireplace, a rather silent and dejected figure used to sit; this was William Osborne [sic].  Henry Lamb, then a young artist lately arrived from Manchester, and I soon got to know him, and the three of us became intimate and spent a good deal of time together.  We found a common interest in the subject of painting, for Osborne [sic] too was an artist.  Our senior in years, ‘Billy’ seemed vastly our superior in knowledge …  A once elegant but now dilapidated row of houses in the King’s Road, with their peeling stucco, reminded Billy of a bevy of elderly ladies vainly trying to camouflage the ravages of time under a reckless application of rouge.  This sort of thing was very ‘ninetyish’ of course, but it was new to us.  Our friend claimed that this method permitted him to paint in any light; by a learned transposition of colour he could deal with Nature in any mood.  This was theory; practically, he preferred the weather to accommodate itself to his palette, as in London it often did.  He used few colours and those sparingly.  Black was his basic pigment. ‘As for the rose of brick’, he said, ‘a little burnt umber and white suffices”. (pp. 228-9).

In 1906, after suffering for some time with facial neuralgia, he died in Chelsea, perhaps as a result of over-dosing on chloroform which he took to for pain relief.  The contents of his studio were left to Paul Maitland.

Osborn’s painting of Royal Avenue, Chelsea is in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London.  For many years Royal Avenue, Chelsea was believed to have been by Paul Maitland, owing to a similarity in style.  Osborn’s and Maitland’s paintings are sometimes confused and this is exacerbated by the fact that after Osborn’s death his paintings were left with Maitland, one of his few close friends.  Osborn was a regular exhibitor at Show Day in St Ives and also exhibited in Liverpool, Manchester, Paris and at the Royal Academy, London.  A memorial exhibition was held at W B Paterson, Old Bond Street, London in Oct/Nov, 1906.

This painting of Victorian Regent Street is seen from the west side of the street, looking south east, towards Piccadilly Circus.  The building on the opposite corner is 104 Regent Street, at the junction with Glasshouse Street.