Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wallis, George (1811-1891)

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WALLIS, GEORGE (1811–1891), keeper of South Kensington Museum, son of John Wallis (1783–1818) by his wife, Mary Price (1784–1864), was born at Wolverhampton on 8 June 1811, and educated at the grammar school from 1820 to 1827. He practised as an artist at Manchester from 1832 to 1837, but, taking an interest in art education as applied to designs for art manufactures and decorations, he won one of the six exhibitions offered by the government in 1841 and joined the school of design at Somerset House, London. He became headmaster of the Spitalfields schools in January 1843, and was promoted to the headmastership of the Manchester school on 15 Jan. 1844, which position he resigned in 1846, as he could not agree with changes in the plan of instruction originated at Somerset House. In 1845 he organised at the Royal Institution, Manchester, the first exhibition of art manufactures ever held in England, and in the same year he delivered the first systematic course of lectures on the principles of decorative art, illustrated with drawings on the blackboard. These lectures led Lord Clarendon, then president of the board of trade, to ask Wallis to draw up a chart of artistic and scientific instruction as applied to industrial art. This chart is said to have been the basis of the instruction afforded by the present science and art department (Sparkes, Schools of Art, p. 45). The royal commissioners for the Great Exhibition of 1851 appointed him a deputy commissioner, and he acted in 1850 for several manufacturing districts and the whole of Ireland. During the exhibition of 1851 he was superintendent of the British textile division, and a deputy commissioner of juries. After the close of the exhibition he accepted, at the request of the board of trade, the headmastership of the Birmingham school of design. In 1853 he was one of the six commissioners sent by the government to the United States of America to report on art and manufactures, and from his report and that of Sir Joseph Whitworth [q. v.] on machinery was compiled ‘The Industry of the United States,’ 1854. During the great International Exhibition of 1862 he acted in the same capacity as he had done in 1851. He was actively engaged in the British section of the Paris universal exhibitions of 1855 and 1867. In 1858 he left Birmingham and joined the South Kensington Museum as senior keeper of the art collection, an appointment which he relinquished just prior to his death. He fostered the system of circulating works of art in provincial museums. On 7 March 1878 he was elected F.S.A. He wrote in all the leading art periodicals, and was one of the earliest contributors to the ‘Art Journal,’ besides delivering a vast number of lectures on design and kindred subjects. He died at 21 St. George's Road, Wimbledon, Surrey, on 24 Oct. 1891, and was buried in Highgate cemetery on 28 Oct. He married, on 30 June 1842, Matilda, daughter of William Cundall of Camberwell, and left issue.

Besides prefaces to artistic works he wrote:

  1. ‘On the Cultivation of a Popular Taste in the Fine Arts,’ 1839.
  2. ‘The Principles of Art as applied to Design,’ 1844.
  3. ‘Introductory Address delivered to the Students of the Manchester School of Design,’ 1844.
  4. ‘The Industry of the United States in Machinery and Ornamental Art,’ 1844.
  5. ‘The Artistic and Commercial Results of the Paris Exhibition,’ 1855.
  6. ‘Recent Progress of Design,’ 1856.
  7. ‘Schools of Art, their Constitution and Management,’ 1857.
  8. ‘Wallis's Drawing Book, Elementary Series,’ 1859.
  9. ‘The Manufactures of Birmingham,’ 1863.
  10. ‘The Royal House of Tudor,’ 1866.
  11. ‘Technical Instruction,’ 1868.
  12. ‘Language by Touch,’ 1873.
  13. ‘Decorative Art in Britain, Past, Present, and Future,’ 1877.
  14. ‘British Art, Pictorial, Decorative, and Industrial: a Fifty Years' Retrospect,’ 1882.

He edited Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins's ‘Comparative Anatomy as applied to the Purposes of the Artist,’ 1883.

[Art Journal, December 1891, p. 384, with portrait; Daily Graphic, 28 Oct. 1891, with portrait; Illustrated London News, 17 Oct. 1891, with portrait; London Figaro, 14 Oct. 1891, with portrait; Magazine of Art, December 1891, with portrait; Biograph, 1879, ii. 177; Simms's Bibliotheca Staffordiensis, pp. 484–6.]

G. C. B.