William Wyllie - The Portsmouth Years
W L Wyllie spent his final years in Portsmouth, the home of the navy, which provided this internationally renowned marine artist with lots of inspiration for his art.
In 1906, WL moved into an old boat house, formerly known as Quilter House in Portsmouth harbour, next to the famous Round Tower. After some re-modelling, including the addition of a tower, his new home became known as Tower House.
The newly constructed Tower was based on a lovely church in Gsteig bei Gstaad, which they came across on their honeymoon in Switzerland. Marion had always treasured a small watercolour sketch Bill painted of the church for her during their short stay in the small town. From his penthouse studio, he overlooked the harbour with its busy shipping, giving him a wealth of material to draw and paint.
Soon after moving, Bill got stuck into the community in Portsmouth. His love for the sea didn’t just extend to his personal artistic endeavours though.
In 1909 Bill formed the first units of what to become the 1st Portsmouth Seascouts. Official registration with the Scout Association didn’t materialise until 1912. W L Wyllie’s enthusiasm to train the boys had no bounds. He offered the group one of the unused boat stores in Tower House as their head quarters. They would often launch their boats beside the terrace at Tower House.
Also in 1909, together with a small group of fellow artists, Bill became one of the founding members and first president of the Portsmouth & Hampshire Art Society, which is still flourishing today. Each year they have their annual exhibition in Portsmouth Cathedral, ironically where W L Wyllie received his memorial service in 1931.
As a lifelong sailor, he co-founded the Portsmouth Sailing Club in 1920 and competed in many sailing competitions, until well into his seventies. In 1926, they settled in their clubhouse in Bath Square, literally around the corner from Tower House. The slipway where the boats were launched was right next to Tower house.
Towards the end of his life, W L Wyllie became preoccupied with the restoration of HMS Victory. As a founder member of The Society for Nautical research, he played an important part in the society’s main aims of raising funds and supplying technical advice towards the salvage of the ship. After the initial restoration, a new museum was created in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, where once stood the old Rigging House, dedicated to Nelson and other naval relics. Bill, with help from his youngest daughter Aileen, painted a 42ftx12ft painting of The Battle of Trafalgar, which was placed in the new annex and opened in 1930 by King George V. This is still raising money to date towards the ongoing maintenance of the Victory.
Read more about Wyllie and HMS Victory here.
In 1931, Bill suffered a heart attack, whilst staying with family friends in London. Unfortunately, he passed away before his family could get to him, travelling from Portsmouth, as the trains were delayed because of the reduced Easter service. They moved his body back to Portsmouth, where arrangements were made for a burial with full naval honours for a man who had never served in the Navy, but was held in high regard for his services to the navy, especially through his splendid recording of the action during WW1. His last journey was made on board a cutter from HMS Nelson, rowed by his beloved Sea scouts up the harbour, to his final resting place in the grounds of Portchester Castle, alongside his daughter Eva, and later also his wife Marion (1937) and youngest daughter Aileen (1987).