We are frequently contacted by people wanting to know whether or not they are in possession of an original painting or drawing by Edward Wilson of the Antarctic. Is it an original?
Most commonly, people are in posession of a print. However, both Edward Wilson and his family gave many of his pictures away.They rarely sold them except out of necessity, as Edward Wilson regarded his paintings as gifts from God to be given and shared. So there are a huge number of his original works in circulation, sometimes several original versions of one picture. This is particularly true of pictures from the Discovery expedition, which were given away as prizes for competitions aboard etc. and then repainted for sale in the Bruton Gallery for the Royal Geographical Society on the expedition’s return. If you wish to know whether or not you have an original, please take the following steps:
1. Remove the image from any frame.
2. Examine for markings etc. Most prints are cut out from books, particularly from the Seaver biographies and Barratt Hamilton’s British Mammals. These should be obvious once out of the frame. Most modern prints are produced by the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge or other museums and are marked accordingly.
3. If it isn’t still obviously a print then it may be from what is known as the Original Print Series.
Fifteen prints were originally issued by Edward Wilson’s widow, Oriana, in 1914 to benefit the Scott Appeal Fund. They were re-issued for the 1930 British Empire (Polar) Exhibition. In 1938 Oriana Wilson gave the remaining stock to the SPRI to sell. The 1914 sets were printed by Messrs. Hudson and Kearns of London. The publishers of the second (1930) series are unknown. There appears to be no easily discernable difference between the two printings.
The prints are of excellent quality and are often confused as originals, even at noted auction houses. However, if you compare your image to those below and find the perfect match, then it is probably one of these prints, as the location of all the original watercolours from which these were taken is known (although duplicate original water colours are possible – so look for variations in the image. If there are none, then it is a print).
Compare your picture to the print series below
Prints from this series are considered of such good quality that they are nevertheless sought after, provided that they are in good condition. Many are in poor condition, having faded due to exposure to sunlight.
4. If your picture is not identified as a print by any of the previous 3 steps, then take a look at the medium. Edward Wilson is known to have illustrated in water colour, pencil, pastel, charcoal, chalk and gouache but never in oil.
5. Edward Wilson signed his images using various versions of his name. Informal sketches are often simply signed Ted, or EAW. More formal sketches sometimes with E.A.Wilson and formal images intended for sale or publication usually signed Edward A. Wilson.
6. If your image has the characteristics of steps 5 and 6 – do please photograph your picture and send it to us… we will offer advice as to its likely authenticity if we can.
Whilst the value of pictures by Edward Wilson can be high, it depends very much upon the subject and condition of the picture. We hope that, in his spirit and that of the Wilson family, you will consider donating any picture to an appropriate public collection for all to enjoy.