The Men’s Side

One of the pleasurable things for me about writing the Quaker Artists series has been discovering paintings of Friends Meetings for Worship. The eleven depictions of Meetings for Worship I’ve written about date from about 1688 to 2018. Here is another:

“The Men’s Side” (1860) is a pen and ink drawing from London Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions at Devonshire House. Among the Quakers shown are the Bratt brothers, in the right foreground, who continued to dress plainly even as most Friends began to adopt non-Quaker attire. It was included in a bound booklet of seven sketches by John Joseph Willson. The other drawings also showed Friends.

John Joseph Willson (1837-1903) was a Leeds (BrYM) Quaker. He came from a wealthy family, who owned the Willson, Walker & Co. tannery, the largest tannery in Britain. A painter, largely self-taught, he created landscapes, portraits and caricatures. Many of his works were in watercolor. Willson helped found the Leeds Art Gallery and was vice president of the Yorkshire Union of Artists and president of the Leeds Fine Art Society. Exhibitions of his works appeared at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Walker Art Gallery. It was said that, as a child, he “wasted his school time by drawing engines on his slate”, and that, as an adult, he “painted up to the last”. Though theater had been forbidden to Friends in the past, he was also known for his participation in amateur dramatics. The Willson Group of artists (active 1860-1906), notable British painters of the 19th century, included Willson, his wife, their four children and his sister.

I especially enjoyed “The Men’s Side”. It’s a delightful, very human depiction of a mid-19th Friends Meeting for Worship.

Gary Sandman

February 2021

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