Chagford's Widgery: William Snell Morrish
by John Van der Kiste
edited: Friday, April 26, 2002
Posted: Friday, April 26, 2002
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The work of Morrish, Dartmoor landscape painter often compared to his more famous contemporary, Widgery. From Dartmoor News No. 65, March/April 2002
William Snell Morrish (1844-1917), one of the most prolific and popular of the Dartmoor landscape painters, was one of three artists in the family. His father Sidney had followed a similar trade, as would his son Bertram in due course.
Little is known about him, but it has been established that William was born at Chagford and, apart from a brief excursion abroad, spent most of his life there. He studied under his father, at the Exeter School of Art, and at Heatherly's, London. Returning home, he began exhibiting watercolours when in his early twenties. One of his first successes was with ‘On the Moor Near Chagford' exhibited in 1866 and sold for fifteen guineas. Three years later he sold one of Sharpitor Rocks near Chagford’, for double the price.
Moorland views, often close to his home town and on the River Teign, were and always remained his foremost subject, but around 1880 he went to Switzerland and painted several landscapes there. He regularly took part in exhibitions with other Devon artists, and four times at the Royal Academy, London.
One of his major paintings, which recently came on the national market, showed a view of Plymouth Sound from Dartmoor. On close inspection this seems to have been painted from Hawks Tor, not far from Comwood, where the Sound is easily visible on a clear day. Nevertheless there appears to be a certain amount of artistic licence with some of the scenery - though what artist has ever eschewed such 'principles' in the interest of a good picture?
By 1881 his reputation had long since been established, and George Pycroft noted in his authoritative ‘Art in Devonshire’ (1881): 'He received some education at Heathery's School in London, but his chief source of instruction was the work and conversation of the artists who in summer visited his picturesque neighbourhood. He paints with a bold, firm touch in the open air; his work is characterised by perfect fidelity and truthfulness, and he is an admirable delineator of Dartmoor scenery.'
Twenty years later, in August 1903, historian William Crossing was to write in the ‘Western Morning News’ that 'W.S. Morrish, a keen observer of Nature, possessing a full knowledge of e country he loves to paint, has given us some splendid pictures of the glorious heather which is its pride.’
Like the Widgerys, Morrish is noted particularly for his atmospheric portrayal of the moor in all weathers, its wide expanses of heather and gorse, its tors and rivers. The short spell he spent in Switzerland studying and painting the dramatic scenery there doubtless reinforced his acute powers of observation of the equally spectacular yet more homely landscape near his beloved Chagford.