William Maw Egley

(1826 - 20 February 1916)

British artist of the Victorian era. The son of the miniaturist William Egley, he studied under his father. His early works were illustrations of literary subjects typical of the period, such as "Prospero and Miranda" from The Tempest. These were similar to the work of The Clique. William Powell Frith, one of The Clique, hired Egley to add backgrounds to his own work. Egley soon developed a style influenced by Frith, including domestic and childhood subjects. Most of his paintings were humorous or "feelgood" genre scenes of urban and rural life, depicting such subjects as harvest festivals and contemporary fashions. His best known painting, "Omnibus Life in London" (Tate Gallery) is a comic scene of people squashed together in the busy, cramped public transport of the era.

Egley always showed great interest in specifics of costume, to which he paid detailed attention, but his paintings were often criticised for their hard, clumsy style. In the 1860s Egley adopted the fashion for romanticised 18th century subjects. Though he produced a very large number of reliably salable paintings, his work was never critically admired.


English painter. He was the son of the portrait painter and miniaturist William Egley (1798-1870). Under his father's tutelage he began painting around the age of 14. His earliest works were the sort of fashionable literary illustrations of Moliere and Shakespeare that Charles Dickens satirized in the first issue of Household Words (1850). Egley was hired by William Powell Frith to paint backgrounds, and under Frith's influence began painting domestic genre scenes, especially of children's play, for example "Coming Events Cast their Shadow" before (1861; U. Bath, Holburne of Menstrie Mus.), in which a boy blows a horn loudly in a girl's ear. He recorded the rural custom of cheering largess in "Hallo Largess! "A Harvest Scene in Norfolk" (1860; priv. col.). His best-known work is "Omnibus Life in London" (1859; London, Tate), which shows the crowded interior of an omnibus with a mother holding on to her fashionably dressed young son as he squirms on her lap. Egley's efforts were often criticized for harshness of execution and lapses of scale or perspective. He had a special interest, recorded in his account book, in the detailed rendering of costume, especially the elaborately crocheted pantaloons and drawers fashionable for children. These are painted with great care and exactness. He also wrote of such undergarments very extensively in his descriptions of the paintings. He returned to costume and historical pieces in the 1860s, employing a mannered Victorian vision of the 18th century. His accounts list over 1000 paintings, but reviews were disappointing for the greater part of his life.

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