A vision of England: Etchings by William Monk

18 April 2013

The 150th anniversary of a major Chester artist is being celebrated at the city’s Grosvenor Museum with the exhibition ‘A Vision of England: Etchings by William Monk’, which runs until August 4. 

William Monk (1863-1937) was one of the most significant artists to be born in Chester. He was a highly respected figure in the British Etching Revival, a movement which saw the rebirth of etching as an artistically creative form of printmaking.

The exhibition demonstrates Monk’s technical brilliance, not least in the subtle manipulation of ink on the surface of the etched copper plate. His prints celebrate a vision of England which ranges from the quaint corners of picturesque Chester, through the age-old tradition of historic colleges, to the grandeur and vitality of metropolitan London. 

William Monk was the son of the gunmaker William Henry Monk, whose business was in Foregate Street and continues today in Queen Street. He attended Chester School of Art and had a studio in Eastgate Row North. In 1887-8 Monk studied at the Antwerp Academy in Belgium, where he first started to etch. In 1888 he moved to a studio at Waterside Lodge, Barrell Well Hill, in the Chester suburb of Boughton. In 1892 Monk moved to London, where he subsequently spent the great part of his working life before returning to Chester in 1933. 

Monk became an Associate of the Society of Painter-Etchers (now the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers) in 1894 and a full member in 1899. In 1902 he launched the Calendarium Londinense or the London Almanack, known to print collectors as ‘Monk’s Calendar’, and etched every edition up to 1938. Monk was one of the earliest members of the Society of Graver-Printers in Colour, founded in 1909, and was its Vice-President at the time of his death.

Councillor Stuart Parker, Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Executive Member for Culture and Recreation, said: “I am enormously grateful to Robert Stones (1951-2011), who bequeathed most of the pictures in this exhibition together with a large collection of work by William Monk and other artists. The conservation of the pictures from the Robert Stones bequest was funded by the Megan Gwynne-Jones Charitable Trust, and I greatly appreciate this very generous support.” Peter Davies, civil partner and executor of the late Robert Stones, said: “This exhibition had been a long held ambition of Robert’s, and I am thrilled that it has now come to fruition. Thanks to Robert’s bequest to the Grosvenor Museum, and funding from the Megan Gwynne-Jones Charitable Trust, we can all see what a prolific artist William Monk was and how much he loved Chester.”

Clive Pointon, Chairman of the Megan Gwynne-Jones Charitable Trust and head of wills, trusts and tax at Chester law firm Aaron & Partners, said: “With 46 exhibits spanning the artist’s career from the 1880s to the 1930s, this is the first retrospective of William Monk’s etchings since his memorial exhibition in 1938. I am delighted that the Trust has been able to fund the conservation of these pictures, enabling the public to fully appreciate this important Chester artist in his home city.”

The programme of accompanying events includes:

Lectures on the theme of English identity:
  • April 24, ‘Englishness under Fire: The Great War and English Identity’, lecture by Dr Tim Grady
  • May 1, ‘English (in)hospitality? Political and Popular Responses to Jewish Refugees from Nazism’, lecture by Hannah Ewence
  • June 26, Exhibition tour with Peter Boughton
  • June 29, ‘Etching Aluminium: The Saline Sulfate Etch’, workshop with Sharon Lelonek
Activities for children and families:
  • July 30, ‘Surprising Printing’
  • July 31, ‘Don’t Blot Your Copy Book’
  • August 1, ‘Three Little Mice’
The Grosvenor Museum is open Monday – Saturday 10.30am - 5pm and Sunday 1pm - 4pm, admission free.

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