Müller, William John (DNB00)

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MÜLLER, WILLIAM JOHN (1812–1845), landscape painter, born at Bristol on 28 June 1812, was the second son of John Samuel Müller and his wife, a Miss James of Bristol. His father, a native of Danzig, took refuge in England during the French occupation of Prussia in 1807-8, and settled at Bristol, where he married, and published ‘A Natural History of the Crinoidea,’ 1821, 4to. He also left a manuscript, which was lost, on ‘Corals and Coralines,’ and contributed several papers to the ‘Transactions of the Royal Society.’ He died in 1830.

Under his father's teaching Müller developed a taste for botany and natural history. He was at first intended for an engineer, but, devoting himself to art, received his first instruction from his fellow-townsman, James Barker Pyne [q. v.] He appears to have lived at Bristol till he was one-and-twenty, and was a member of the Bristol Sketching Club, which was established in 1833, his fellow-members being Samuel Jackson, J. Skinner Prout, J. B. Pyne, William West, Willis, Robert Tucker, and Evans. In the same year (1833) he exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy, his picture being ‘The Destruction of Old London Bridge—Morning.’ In this or the following year he went abroad with Mr. George Fripp (still one of the members of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours), and spent seven months sketching in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, after which he returned to Bristol and commenced his professional career. In 1836 he exhibited at the Royal Academy ‘Peasants on the Rhine waiting for the Ferry Boat,’ and sent works to the Exhibition of the Society of Artists in Suffolk Street in 1836, 1837, and 1838. In the last of these years he took a tour in Greece and Egypt, returning to Bristol with portfolios well filled with sketches. In 1839 he came to London, where his pictures found ready purchasers. His dexterity in the use of both oil- and water-colour, his fine colour, and extraordinarily rapid execution, were regarded with admiration and wonder. David Cox [q. v.], his senior by nearly thirty years, who wished to improve himself in oil painting, came and watched the young genius as he painted his now famous picture of ‘The Ammunition Waggon,’ and procured a few of his pictures to place before him as models to work by. He again exhibited at the Royal Academy, and continued to do so yearly till his death. In 1841 he published a volume of ‘Sketches illustrative of the Age of Francis I’ (dedicated to Queen Adelaide), and joined the government expedition to Lycia at his own expense. During his absence he made a large number of masterly sketches, and from them he painted several pictures, like ‘The Tent Scene, Xanthus,’ and ‘The Burial Ground, Smyrna,’ which were exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution during the last three years of his life.

His hands were now full of commissions, which he was unable to execute from ill-health. He returned to Bristol for rest and advice, but his heart was diseased. He painted occasionally, his last work being a sketch in water-colour of some flowers at his bedside. He died on 8 Sept. 1845, at the early age of thirty-three, and was buried in the old Lewin's Mead burial-ground, Bristol. At the sale of his works, which took place the year after his death, there was much competition for his Lycian sketches, which sold at prices varying from 20l. to 60l. apiece. A fine collection of them was left to the British Museum by John Henderson [q. v.] in 1878. His oil-pictures now sell for very large sums. The ‘Chess Players’ fetched 4,052l. at J. Heugh's sale in 1874; ‘Ancient Tombs, Lycia,’ 3,950l. at the Bolckow sale in 1888; and ‘The Island of Rhodes,’ 3,465l. at C. P. Matthews's sale in 1891. He is represented in the National Gallery by two fine but comparatively unimportant works—a ‘Welsh Landscape’ and an Eastern sketch (in oils), with figures. There are several of his water-colour drawings in the South Kensington Museum. Müller was one of the most original and powerful of painters from nature. He seized the characteristics of a scene with wonderful clearness and promptitude, and set it down without hesitation or difficulty. His selection and generalisation were nearly always masterly, his colour pure and strong, and he could probably suggest more, with fewer touches, than any other painter of his time. He never spoilt the freshness of his work by over-labour or detail. One of his most remarkable works, executed very rapidly, in a manner suggestive of Constable, and called ‘Eel Butts at Goring,’ is now in the possession of Mr. William Agnew. It is little more than a masterly sketch, and on the back of it is written in large letters by the artist himself, ‘Left as a sketch for some fool to finish and ruin, W. M., Feb. 7, 1843.’ It has recently been engraved in mezzotint on a large scale. Facsimiles of twenty of his Bristol sketches were published in a quarto volume under the title ‘Bits of Old Bristol,’ Bristol, 1883.

A portrait of Müller from a drawing by Mr. Branwhite of Bristol is prefixed to Solly's ‘Life of Müller,’ and a photograph of a bust in the possession of Muller's brother Edmund is given in the same work.

[Life by N. Neal Solly, London, 1875;Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Bryan's Dict. of Painters and Engravers, ed. Graves and Armstrong; Algernon Graves's Dict. of Artists; Roget's Old Water-colour Society; Bates's Maclise Portrait Gallery, s.v. ‘Maclise.’]

J. C. M.