Sidney   Richard   Percy   Williams

(1821, London - 13 April 1886, Sutton, Surrey)

English landscape painter during the Victorian era, and a member of the Williams family of painters. Sidney Richard Percy was born Sidney Richard Percy Williams in 1821, in London. He was the fifth son of the painter Edward Williams (1781-1855) and Ann Hildebrandt (c.1780-1851), and a member of the Williams family of painters, who were related to such famous artists as James Ward, R.A. and George Morland.

His father was a well-known landscape artist, who taught him how to paint; otherwise he received no formal instruction. Although his early paintings were signed "Sidney Williams", he used the name "Percy" from the age of 20 onwards to differentiate himself from the other artists in his family. Starting in 1842, he exhibited at the Royal Academy (65 works), the British Institution (48 works), and the Suffolk Street Gallery of the Society of British Artists (67 works). He also exhibited in many of the lesser-known Victorian art venues as well.

His early years were spent in or near the artist's quarter of Tottenham Court, before moving about 1846, with his family to Barnes on the outskirts of London. Here he lived and worked with his father and brothers in a communal artist setting in a large house with a studio that they shared at 32 Castelnau Villas. Barnes today is part of the urban sprawl of London, but much of it was rural countryside in Victorian times. Situated close to the Thames River, there were quiet marshes beneath windmills, farms where horses pulled plows, and wheel-rutted dirt roads running past country inns or through shaded glens. These were the scenes that the Williams brothers captured on canvas during their early years as painters, but as Sidney Richard Percy matured as a landscape painter he increasingly sought his inspiration in Northern Wales, Devon, Yorkshire, the Lake District and Skye.

He moved after his 1857, marriage to the Florence Villas on Inner Park Road in Wandsworth, Surrey, and then moved his family about 1863, to Hill House in the village of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Hill House was well placed for painting forays into the English countryside, situated as it was across from the Misbourne Valley. He was extremely popular during these years, which brought him sufficient income to indulge the extravagant tastes of his wife, which included a carriage and several servants.

Hill House, Great Missenden

Percy traveled in 1865, to Venice with his friend and neighbor the water colour artist William Callow (1812-1908), and returned visiting Switzerland and Paris. Although war between Prussia and Austria, in 1866, put an end to these travels, he returned home to ample artistic inspiration in the Welsh countryside, where he spent many days painting in and around the villages of Llanbedr and Arthog, on either side of the Mawddach estuary in Merioneth. He also made painting forays to the Scottish Highlands.

He spent his final years at Mulgrave Road in Sutton, Surrey, where his knee was injured when he was thrown from a horse in a riding accident. When his leg had to be amputated as a consequence, he died prematurely at his home of a heart attack due complications from the operation. Though once quite wealthy, his finances at the time of his death were no longer robust, and his widow had to be supported in her final years by her son-in-law

Sidney Richard Percy Williams married Emily Charlotte Fairlam (1835-1904), the daughter of Richard Fairlam, on 30 June 1857, in the Barnes Parish Church. He and Emily had four children.
1.Gordon Fairlam Percy Williams (12 April 1858, Wandsworth, Surrey - 12 Sept 1870, Westhampnett, West Sussex)
2.Edith Maude Percy Williams (14 April 1859, Wandsworth, Surrey - 1883, Epsom, Surrey)
3.Amy Dora Percy Williams (6 October 1860, Wandsworth, Surrey - 11 June 1957, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria)
4.Herbert Sidney Percy Williams (18 Feb 1863, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire - 8 Oct 1932, Hammersmith, London)

Sidney Richard Percy's daughter Amy Dora Percy exhibited one painting at the Royal Academy, and married the chemist Richard Freshfield Reynolds (1860-1907), but she is best known for a collection of poems and several novels she wrote as Mrs. Fred Reynolds. Her brother Herbert Sidney Percy (1863-1932) studied at the Royal Academy of Art, where he won two silver medals in painting, and exhibited one painting at the Academy. He became a professional artist whose portraits and miniatures hang in the homes of many prominent English families. He also painted landscapes, and illustrated books, particularly those of his close friend G.K. Chesterton.

Sidney Richard Percy was born into an artist family that is sometimes referred to as the Barnes School. His father and five surviving brothers were all noted landscape painters during the Victorian era. Percy was one of three of the sons of Edward Williams who changed their last names to protect the identity of their art.

Edward Williams (father)
Edward Charles Williams
Henry John Boddington
George Augustus Williams
Arthur Gilbert
Alfred Walter Williams

Percy had his greatest success painting landscapes of grazing cattle, typically set against backgrounds of distant mountains and cloudy skies. The prevailing hues of his landscapes are earth tones and soft greens, accentuated by a variety of pastel hues. The detail in his work is part of its appeal, and "it was remarked that his rocks and stones were sufficiently accurate to have served as illustrations to the writings of Sir Roderick Murchison, the popular 19th-century geologist. He also painted landscapes of farm fields, wheel-rutted country roads, and the occasional boat scene on a lake.

His art interests were not limited to painting, and he was also an amateur photographer, in a day when photography was new and exciting, yet still a poorly understood medium. He frequently used his own photographs of gypsies in the Barnes or Wimbledon Common as the basis for similar figures in his paintings, even though some contemporary critics complained how these figures ruined what otherwise would be delightful landscapes. A classic example is "Storm Gathering on Cader Idris, North Wales", which he exhibited in 1856, at the Royal Academy, and which has the same gypsy girls in it as one of seven of his photographs in the Victoria and Albert Museum. These same girls appear in his 1861 work "A Rest on the Roadside," and they appear again, but reversed, in his 1873 version of "Llyn-y-Ddinas, North Wales," showing that he repeated themes when convenient.

Although he generally painted in oils, a number of small watercolors on cardboard exist, typically unsigned, that are his work. The family, and his son the painter Herbert Sidney Percy in particular, referred to these as "potboilers", meaning that they were quickly, and often crudely executed, yet easily and cheaply sold "to put food on the table" when working on larger, more time-consuming oils for exhibition, or commissions. Many of these watercolor "potboilers" were done in the field, and then brought back to the studio to refer to when executing a more formal oil on canvas.

Sidney Richard Percy was extremely popular during the early part of his career, which for a short time brought him a fair amount of income. Among his patrons during this time was Prince Albert the Royal consort, who in 1854, gave Percy's landscape of "A view of Llyn Dulyn, North Wales," which had just been exhibited at the Royal Academy, as a gift to his wife Queen Victoria. This painting still hangs today in the Royal Collection.

Unfortunately Sidney Richard Percy outlived his popularity, and the art world was more excited about impressionism and other styles than landscapes when he died.

When the Athenaeum, in 1886, ran an obituary for Sidney Richard Percy they called him, "the well-known and popular painter, founder of the so-called School of Barnes . . ."


Landscape-painter and founder of the ‘School of Barnes,’ was born about 1821. He was the sixth son of Edward Williams, a landscape-painter, whose seven sons followed the same branch of art as their father, and three of whom called themselves respectively Henry John Boddington [q. v.], Arthur Gilbert, and Sidney Richard Percy, in order to avoid confusion with their relatives and other artists of the same name. He began to exhibit landscapes both at the Royal Academy and at the Society of British Artists in 1842, and at the British Institution in 1843. His works consisted chiefly of English and Welsh scenery, and especially of views on the Thames, and, although no picture can be singled out for mention from among others, they were at one time very popular. He contributed in all nearly three hundred pictures to the various London exhibitions.

Percy died at his residence, Woodseat, Sutton, Surrey, on 13 April 1886, aged 64. His remaining pictures and sketches were sold by Messrs. Christie, Manson, & Woods on 27 Nov. 1886.

Athenæum, 1886; Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Graves and Armstrong, 1886-1889; Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1842-1886; British Institution Exhibition Catalogues (Living Artists), 1843-1863; Exhibition Catalogues of the Society of British Artists, 1842-1884; Dictionary of artists who have exhibited works in the principal London exhibitions from 1760–1893; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 44. by Robert Edmund Graves; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

External links
Genealogy of the Percy, Williams & Ward families
Richard Green Gallery, Sidney Richard Percy biography">
World Classic Gallery Sidney Richard Percy biography and paintings
British Museums on BBC, Paintings by Sidney Richard Percy
Wikigallery, Paintings by Sidney Richard Percy
Rehs Galleries, Victorian Landscape Art

View painter's work: Sidney Richard Percy Williams (1821-1886) [new window view]