26 January 2015
Enigmas and Errors: 19th-century cataloguing of the King’s Topographical Collection Part 2
What do E M Forster and King George III have in common? Alas, this is not the beginning of a terrible joke. The answer is a little-known British topographical and marine artist, Charles John Mayle Whichelo (1784-1854). Whichelo was Forster’s great-grandfather and four of his works have remained unattributed in King George III’s Topographical Collection since at least 1829.
In an earlier post I looked at a drawing incorrectly catalogued as the Trinity Hospital in Guildford in the Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third. (London, 1829) and how the cataloguers transcribed inscriptions without questioning attribution and identification. Similarly, in the Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts, and Plans, and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum [known as the British Library from 1972] (London, 1844-1861) these errors were repeated. This has also been the case with four early watercolours by Whichelo, painted when he was nineteen in 1803. Three of the watercolours depict London (Westminster and Stepney) while a fourth shows Sussex: St Margaret's Westminster Signed JW and dated 1803, Maps K.Top.23.24.a.
St Margaret's Westminster, 1803, watercolour, by Charles John Mayle Whichelo, Maps K.Top.23.24.a.
This watercolour is catalogued as ‘A drawn View of the Church of St. Margaret Westminster, by I.W., 1803.’ in the 1829 catalogue but in the 1844 catalogue he is called ‘J.W.’
Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.23.24.a. in the Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third. (London, 1829.).
Detail of entry for Maps K.Top.23.24.a. in the Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts, and Plans, and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum [known as the British Library from 1972]. (London, 1844-1861)
S. S. E. View of Stepney Church signed ‘John Whiche’ within a gravestone, Maps K.Top.28.18.e. and N. N. E. View of Stepney Church, signed and dated 'J.W. 1803', Maps K.Top.28.18.f
These are catalogued as being by IW and dated respectively 1801 and 1803 in the 1829 catalogue. but by JW and both dated 1803 in the 1844 catalogue. The 1844 catalogue identifies the church as St Dunstan’s, Stepney, but only for Maps K.Top.28.18.e.
The fourth watercolour by Whichelo is the South East View Shoreham Church signed J Whichelo 1803, Maps K.Top.42.24.b.
Detail of Maps K.Top.42.24.b. . Maps K.Top.42.24.b is signed ‘J. Whichelo’ but is catalogued as ‘A colored south-east view of New Shoreham Church; drawn by J. Whiebela, in 1809’ in the 1829 and 1844 catalogues.
The 1829 and 1844 catalogues record Whichelo’s name in different ways: IW, JW or Whiebela, although it is clear that all items are by the same hand and of similar subjects. This points to the fact that the cataloguers were required to work quickly through a large amount of material and they simply transcribed what they saw, or rather what they thought they saw on the work. It also shows that either more than one cataloguer was working through the material (otherwise we might expect a little more consistency in the attributions) or that those working on the collection were not able to correct their initial catalogue list.
A great many prints and drawings in the King’s Topographical Collection arrived in volumes or folios which were then disbound and regrouped according to geographical location, losing any sense of previous order, collection or provenance. That the Whichelos were catalogued inconsistently suggests that while they had probably entered the collection as a group, they had been split up before they were catalogued. The lack of consistency in recording attribution may also be because the artist was not the focus of the collection: it was topography.
The cataloguing, digitisation and research of the King’s Topographical Collection has allowed us to reattribute works and begin to gain a better understanding of the oeuvre of a number of topographical artists whose work has remained hitherto largely unstudied for the last two centuries. It has also allowed us to begin to compare works in this collection to similar works in others, such as some early Whichelo London watercolours and prints from the London Metropolitan Archives. http://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/collage/app?service=external/SearchResults&sp=Zwhichelo&sp=17428&sp=X and the British Museum http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?people=103106
Many of Whichelo’s early topographical works were used as illustrations in publications such as E. W. Brayley's Beauties of England and Wales (1801–15) and of Pennant's Tours (of England, Scotland and Wales). Studying such volumes with the body of Whichelo’s topographical watercolours would be the next step in further understanding Whichelo’s early career.
These four small and previously unattributed watercolours in the King’s Topographical Collection are an example of the value of contemporary research and cataloguing, which has allowed for a greater understanding of the career of a prolific but often-overlooked British topographical artist working at the beginning of the 19th century.