Estall, William Charles (1857-1897)

Estall, William Charles (1857-1897)

William Charles Estall was an accomplished British landscape painter working in oils, pastels, and watercolours.

During the 1870s, when Estall undertook his training at Manchester School of Art, landscape painting in England was predominantly tied to a ‘house style’ based around the tenets of ‘naturalism’. As such, the foremost artists, such as Benjamin Williams Leader (1831-1923) and George Vicat Cole (1833-1893), would render a view realistically, often with careful attention to the scenic minutiae. The expectation from critics was that the rural idyll should be celebrated for its flora, pastoral heritage, and diversity of topography. It was entirely unique and artists needed to present it with fidelity.

However, over in France (particularly Paris), the ideologies were somewhat different as the emerging landscape painters were adding an altogether less tangible quality to their work - emotion. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) was arguably the greatest in this respect - his hazy visions of windswept trees and delicate shimmering ponds were more akin to an impression than a true representation. They were emotive, charged with imagination, and far from contrived.

Young Estall was entranced, Corot was capturing not only nature itself but also how one felt among it. When shifting clouds, as temporary as one’s moods, cast ambient shadows across a flickering wood. Corot was followed by numerous other landscape pioneers, each obsessed with painting ‘en plein air’, outside in the elements. For how can one truly portray nature without first understanding its effects upon us?

Estall’s emotionally-transparent renderings of the countryside were initially met with broadly negative reactions. The Victorian art press weren’t as keen to emphasise one’s feelings, or indeed, even speak about them. One proclaimed that, while he could appreciate his works, “as English scenery and English life they are not to be received as the Merrie England of British-born eyes.”

Despite this, he continued in the same vein and, over time, achieved a fair degree of success, particularly when shown at London’s premier exhibition, the hallowed Royal Academy. And by the late 1880s, following a move to Hardham, Sussex, his reviews were a little brighter. “I have never heard of Mr Estall before. He is a young man, and has evidently studied long in France, for the influence of Millet, Troyon, Daubigny, and Rousseau is plainly visible.”

William Charles Estall

In 1897, with his career beginning to take shape, he tragically suffered a cardiac arrest, and died at the age of 40. Just a few months after his close friend and fellow artist, Arthur Tomson (1859-1905), had written a glowing appraisal of his unusually poetic spirit. We’ve published this below.

As we look back across the oeuvre of this talented creative, his works resonate with us today perhaps more than ever - they remind us that it doesn’t take an encyclopaedic knowledge of art history to simply appreciate how we feel.

William Charles Estall is represented in various public collections including the Rijksmuseum and Manchester Art Gallery.


Royal Academy, Royal Society of British Artists, The Dudley Gallery, Grosvenor Gallery, Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, New English Art Club, Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.

Public Collections

Rijksmuseum, Buxton Museum & Art Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.



Born in Hoxton, London, to William John Estall, a furniture designer, and Maria Estall (nee Slocombe).


Lived in Stretford, Lancashire, with his parents.


Lived in Moss Side, Manchester, with his father and a housekeeper.

Trained at the Manchester School of Art.

Trained at the Slade School, London.


Debuted at the Royal Academy with ‘Borough Farm, Milford, Surrey’. He exhibited a total of five works between 1878 and 1896.


Boarded in Somers Town, London. Occupation recorded as ‘Artist (Landscape Painter).


Married Annie Sharp of Hardham, Sussex, in Marylebone, London.


Lived in Hardham, Sussex, with his wife. Occupation recorded as ‘Artist (Landscape Painter).


Died in Hardham, Sussex.


Truth (1888)

“People who care for genuinely artistic landscapes, devoid alike of vulgarity and sensationalism, should certainly visit a small exhibition of pictures by Mr. William Estall, which is now on view at Messrs. Buck & Reid's. I have never heard of Mr. Estall before. He is a young man, and has evidently studied long in France, for the influence of Millet, Troyon, Daubigny, and Rousseau is plainly visible.

But he is no mere copyist; and, unsafe as it is to prophesy, I feel inclined to predict a future for Mr. Estall, if he has patience to continue as he has begun and is not discouraged by any temporary want of appreciation on the part of the public. His work is all sound; but, of the twenty-three pictures exhibited, I must specially commend 'Evening Glow' and 'The Watering-place.'”

The Work Of William Estall. By Arthur Tomson (Published in The Studio, 1897)

"No manner of subject has proved more attractive to both painters and their patrons than the delineation of country scenes. And this is natural, seeing that the observation of outdoor life is one of the first keen pleasures of healthy youth; while in maturer years, and in old age, men, setting aside their ambitions and cares, seek again and again for that repose the country, and the country alone, can bring them.

It is not unnatural, too, that this strong love of the country should have contributed towards the production of many great artists. A feeling so genuine as this adoration of huge trees, of green nuances, and of the perpetually recurring spectacle of men sowing and reaping, or performing any other duty common to peasant life, must perforce bring with it so great an intimacy with these sights as to beget an altogether singular power of reproducing them pictorially - should the artist have skill enough for the occasion. A painter of pastorals therefore starts on his career already equipped up to a certain point; his subjects are well known to him; with them he commenced to be impressed as soon, perhaps, as he began to walk. He has, too, this advantage, that there is no story he will tell in paint that is not known to every observing man; whatever poetry and individuality he may introduce into his picture, is certain sooner or later to meet with sympathetic eyes, so many are those who - without the gift of picturing it - have dwelt lovingly on the same spectacle as himself.

It is among the ranks of pastoral painters that a great number of those artists will be found who have, at the same time, had something to say for themselves, and have also had meted out to them some degree of recognition and worldly success. Not immediate success perhaps, but enough in the course of a lifetime to warrant such an artist, with a message of his own, stating it, and stating it as persistently as circumstances will enable him. Corot, notwithstanding that his landscapes were instinct with a more fastidious elegance than any man had ever dreamt of before him, passed a placid and careless old age. The story of Millet's life has lost much of its tragedy since its facts have become better known. Many of their contemporaries, whose artistic aims were similar, also knew the delights of fame: whilst our own Walker, Pinwell, Mason, Cecil Lawson, and the Dutch pastoral painters of a modern date, have found appreciation in whatever part of the world their pictures have been sent. 

In the present day, owing, perhaps, to a tiresome abuse of photography, and still more by reason of a restless desire among artists to paint something that no one has ever painted before, pastoral scenes as subjects for pictures have somewhat fallen from their high estate. There are, however, a few men of understanding and great artistic powers who, from the storehouse that has provided generations of painters with motives for immortal works, still contrive to drag forth sufficient information for the continuation of this really fascinating branch of art. It is with one of the group alone - William Estall - that I have been requested here to concern myself. Like many other painters of his school - men who aim more strictly at giving the spirit of a scene than its material facts - Mr. Estall finds the seclusion of the country necessary for the development of his art. At Hardhan, near Pulborough, in the great valley of the Arun, he has found an environment that in every way answers his artistic requirements. There, and in that neighbourhood, the life of the peasant is not yet bereft of all its poetry. The tinkle of the sheep bells is still to be heard among the hills, and from the little valleys on a summer's evening, the thin wavering note of the shepherd's flute rises with the blackbird's song. The great herds of horned cattle that browse by the riverside with their backgrounds of water and wildflower decked marshland, are more suggestive of the time of Theocritus than the end of the nineteenth century. And in the autumn, after the summer has told its story, an opalescent mist rises up from the Arun, wreathing the trees into new and fantastic shapes, and investing, indeed, with a fresh romance every object that it touches. Hardhan is certainly a place to dream in and to paint in. Estall has done both; and the result is that he has produced some pictures which, although they have not brought, and in fact never will bring him, the popularity of a Leader, a Vicat Cole, or a Sydney Cooper, yet will surely in the end add his name to the roll of famous men whose works exist neither for today or tomorrow, but for all time.

If there be any painter to whom Estall may be said to owe some little inspiration, it is Corot. The intoxicating beauty of the great French artist's silhouettes, the subtle patterns included in his tree forms, the extraordinary rhythm of his horizon lines, the altogether marvellous harmony presented in his whole compositions, have so entirely taken possession of the mind of Estall as to render it impossible for him while designing not to seek for those qualities that made Corot's work so entirely lovable. Yet he has never allowed the influence of Corot to bring about the sacrifice of his own original gift for composition. The fair forms created by the dead master have been an example for him, but never anything else. I cannot remember one design of Estall's which may be said to recall another by Corot. Corot's example has inspired him with a lofty ambition; it has strengthened his imagination and made him fastidious in his search for forms, but it has never caused him in any degree to sink into a copyist. The effect of Corot's work upon some modern landscapists has not always been for the good; his bewitching arrangements of trees have haunted many an artist's mind too potently; it is, therefore, very much to Estall's credit, and a great proof of the strength of his originality, that he has so far submitted to a great fascination without in any way suffering from its baneful effects.

As a colourist Estall owes nothing to any man. His tones, the outcome of a diligent search amongst nature's own, are always placed together so as to give, not only an air of reality to the scene he depicts, but also a maximum of decorative effect. A picture should first of all be regarded as a piece of decoration; and if it fails in that particular, the reason for its hanging on the walls of a room is very hard to see. It may appeal to other feelings than a mere love of colour and form; on closer examination it may be replete with this or that sentiment; but unless it decorates, its proper place is in a drawer or cupboard, except, of course, when its owner may feel in the right mood for its contemplation. All great painters have made their work ornamental, no matter how deep a feeling has impelled them to their choice of subject. Millet saw the tremendous tragedy of a peasant's life, and no man has so well set it down in paint; yet he never allowed his intense sympathy with his motives to lead him into a choice of forms that, however characteristic it might be of the incident he was painting, however much, indeed, it might have deepened the impression he was striving to convey, was at the same time of such a nature as to interfere with the purely decorative aspect of his picture. I mention Millet because Millet perhaps more than any painter had a peculiar message of his own, a message that was not simply artistic to convey to humanity. There have been artists who have found some inner feeling satisfied by the use of symbolism, some by a strict adherence to certain facts in nature; others have loved to illustrate legends, historical events, and the customs of their time; but the lasting success of their work will be found to depend far more on their picture's value as decoration than because of any choice of subject, or for any special knowledge therein not common to every great artist. Mr. Estall certainly realises this fact; his pictures are so arranged that, seen in any light or under any conditions, whether their minor details be patent to the eye or not, they always present a scheme of colour and a combination of forms that immediately appeals to the senses. Closer contemplation certainly leads to the discovery of other qualities, qualities of drawing and qualities of technique, and to a better comprehension of their delicate and uncommon poetry; but their chief distinction comes from admirable unity of purpose that directs the artist from first to last in his artistic undertakings. Just as he selects from the dictionary of nature only such forms as he can weave into an elegant and harmonious pattern, so also does he take from the masses of colour that nature clothes herself in only those tones that are in perfect harmony with each other. His colouring, like his pattern, consists usually of very simple combinations; but so great is the taste of the painter, so subtly are these combinations effected, that more variety is suggested to the eye by them than by a complexity of tones; while the big decorative effect obtained by the use of large masses of colour is undeniable. As it is with writers of pastorals, so it is with painters of the same motives - the range of their subjects is rather limited. But the painter has, I think, the advantage of the poet. What description of sheep and shepherds under trees, or in the open plain by the river, or on the hill side can be set down in words with so great a variety as Estall sets them down in paint? What words could describe the subtle variations of mists with which the painter envelops his sheep-folds and his marshland scenes? Nor could any manner of literary expression recall so adequately the clear, gem-like quality of December sunlight such as I have seen rendered in a little water-colour by Estall, or the languorous blue tones of summer moonlight that give half the poetry to several of Estall's more important works.

Nothing would be more interesting than a summary of the different ways in which different artists have accomplished their ends: how some have painted their masterpieces out in the open air, while others have done their work in the seclusion of a studio and from notes remarkable in their brevity. That Corot did most of his work out of doors is an astonishing fact; that a style so serene should have been developed under circumstances so disturbing seems almost miraculous; yet so it was. The advantage of the two methods cannot be discussed; they depend mainly on questions of temperament. The placid and unexcitable person may work where he likes, whilst he of nervous temperament must work where he can. Mr. Estall finds the environment of four walls more conducive to deliberate thought than any place, however suggestive, that there may be in the open air; and when one takes into consideration the peculiar character of his work, one cannot but see that in his choice of a workshop there are advantages. He paints mostly from pencil studies and with the help of an excellent memory, and it is for this reason, perhaps, that there is so great a sense of unity in his designs. He has only just the material before him necessary for the development of his artistic ideas, and he is saved from any combat with the importunate appeals of ever-changing nature. 

Some of Estall's pencil studies I have, by the courtesy of their owners, been allowed to use as illustrations to this article. I deem myself fortunate in this, for it seems to me that they will put my readers on closer terms of intimacy with the artist's exquisite handicraft than any reproduction of a finished picture, of which the conception alone can be given on so reduced a scale. These drawings are not only beautiful and elaborate exercises in the use of the pencil, but they are proofs of the untiring zeal with which the artist seeks for the more dignified and therefore the more decorative truths in nature. To Estall as an animal painter, since animals in such subjects as he chooses often take an important part, some reference should be made. It has been said, and I have no doubt that it is a fact, that a shepherd knows every sheep entrusted to his care by some peculiarity of shape or expression, not always obvious to the ordinary eye. So fine an intimacy with beasts is not demanded of the painter, especially of the pastoral painter. Of him we only require that he should make a statement of the animals that is equal to our own impression of them in nature, when our attention is being engrossed by other matters besides sheep, such as trees, sky, and water. In giving to each individual sheep its right importance as a member of a flock, and the flock its right importance in the landscape, Estall certainly excels; there is perhaps no other painter besides Mauve who has had in him developed to such an extent the faculty for expressing truthfully and artistically a large concourse of sheep. It is for this reason that I have especially referred to Estall as a painter of sheep, although in his pictures other sorts of beasts are naturally to be found, and I have never seen any that were not expressed in an adequate and dignified manner.

Except for what he owes to the splendid example of Corot, Estall is responsible for his own creation as an artist. He certainly did spend some time abroad, where many a promising and individual method of painting has been exchanged by English artists for a style more workmanlike, albeit far less interesting, but he brought back with him the artistic views and ways of painting that he took from home, developed, perhaps, but otherwise unaltered. What he is doing now he has always tried to do; so his history, although in a way uneventful, has at all events no pages in it that he would prefer unread.

I would that it were here possible to reproduce at least one of Estall's pictures adequately in colour, for though these reproductions give some idea of their compositions, yet so great an effect is created by the artist by the use of colour, so much does he add to the ornamental value of his picture by his gem-like accents and combinations of strong rich tones, and so much of their poetical feeling is derived from these tones, that a far less fair idea of the beauty of Estall's pictures than of most artists can be given in merely black and white. I cannot believe that anybody knowing Estall's art does not admire it. His distinguished and elegant style, his imaginative technique and colouring, his sympathetic choice of motives, must be appreciated wherever his pictures have found their way among understanding people. It is, therefore, to those who are unacquainted with his work - and they must be many, for artistic work of this kind gains notoriety very slowly - that these remarks about his art are addressed. Estall's are not the pictures to assert themselves stridently on the walls of the Royal Academy, nor, as they are utterly wanting in sensational incident, would they appeal to the editor of an illustrated paper for reproduction in his pages; but they are poems that would brighten the life of any person who is able to comprehend and possess them. With these statements I think there is no reason for explaining why Estall is not known to a far greater number of picture lovers, nor is an apology necessary for an attempt to arouse the curiosity of those who, if once attracted to Estall's work, would be sure to find in it an unfailing source of delight.”

Morning Leader (1893)

“Mr. William Estall, who, by the bye, is a neighbour of the last-mentioned painter (Edward Stott), and who also finds his motives in the poetry of field and fold. I have lately seen many works by Mr. Estall, and the more I study his pictures the more I feel convinced of this artist's true grip of the essentials of a picture, of his uncommon intimacy with Nature, and of his beautifully sensitive way of expressing himself. The pastoral life in Sussex is peculiarly interesting; there, in fact, exists almost all that remains of our old country life. There the shepherd pursues his true vocation, elsewhere he is becoming almost obsolete, and it is the life of the Sussex shepherd and his flocks that Mr. Estall so beautifully portrays. He can draw a sheep, not as it was seen by Mr. Sydney Cooper, but as we all see it in its true reference to the surrounding landscape: he can suggest the movements of a moving flock, and make thereby a most pleasing arrangement of line, and oft- times a very cunning composition. He has, indeed, divined the poetry of animal life.”


Glasgow Herald

“By the unexpected death of Mr William Estall, English landscape art has sustained a serious loss. A few years ago Mr Estall was far from robust, but latterly his health had noticeably bettered, and for a year or more past he had looked as robustly well as he had ever done. His sudden death two evenings ago from cardiac failure, or, as a friend avers, from a heart seizure of angina pectoris, was wholly unanticipated. All who knew him will regret his loss; and all interested in the finest phase of English landscape art will deplore the cessation, just when he had attained maturity, of the work of William Estall. His name is associated with those of Mr Peppercorn, Mr Aumonier, and others of the "Sussex Pastoralists," as they have been designated; and though William Estall was not a name widely known beyond the immediate circles of the art world, there can be no question but that it will live in the after-records of later Victorian art. His work has rare qualities of truth and individuality of observation, beauty of expression, and delicate distinction of touch, with a subtle and affecting implicit poetry which can best be described as a grave charm that is also unique.

Mr Estall's sad death at the early age of forty is the more regrettable from the fact that of late his always fine work has become notably finer -so much so as to hold out high hopes for his ultimate rank and for an ever deeper and wider influence. Admirers of his work (and it may be added that he was one of the very few younger English artists whose work has been much appreciated abroad-and in Holland and Belgium in particular) may be reminded that an admirable and sympathetic appreciation of his aims and achievements, with some charming illustrations, by his friend and admirable fellow-painter Mr Arthur Tomson, will be found in the November number of "The Studio." For some years Mr Estall has lived at Hardham, near Pulborough, in Mid-Sussex, and tomorrow he will be laid to rest among the scenes which he has so beautifully interpreted.”

Manchester Evening News

"Pursuing its well-established policy of holding special exhibitions of the work of individual painters the Art Gallery Committee has got together a loan collection of the life work of William Charles Estall, who, if not Manchester born, was a Manchester man by very early adoption Very soon after his birth, in May, 1857, his father removed from London to Manchester and became chief designer for the well-known cabinet-maker, the late Mr. James Lamb. Mr. Estall, sen., was a very familiar figure in our streets as he went to and returned from his daily duties in John Dalton Street.

The son was educated at the Manchester Commercial Schools, and at least one old schoolfellow of his looks back to pleasant hours spent in sketching expeditions. His art studies were pursued for a time at the Manchester School of Art, and, subsequently, at the Slade School at the London University. He painted with the men, closely associated with our city, who established themselves in North Wales, and afterwards worked in Brittany and Bavaria.

He was exclusively a landscape painter, for his cattle and sheep are only incidents in the landscape, giving it a pastoral quality. Yet in this quality there is nothing forced or sentimental. The greater part of his work was done in Sussex, in the valley of the Arun, where Mr. Edward Stott also has chiefly painted; and his art has done no more than faithfully interpret the beauty of nature. Allowing always for the artist's right to select and design, the beauty is there for anyone that has eyes to see it.

Directly and indirectly Estall learned much from the French painters, who, following the lead of our English Constable, painted landscape in a large, fresh manner, seeing chiefly its main features, and, above all, the varied play of light. In mere subject, Estall's work is little varied; almost always the same kind of scene. But in rendering of the subtle beauty of light, at all times of day, and in the night also, and under varying atmospheric conditions, there is no lack of range in his work. And it is to those who have become sensitive to the infinite, and infinitely beautiful, variations of light in landscape, that this exhibition will appeal. We hope there will be many such in Manchester; and that others may learn, for the first time, from the work of one whom Manchester can call almost her own, one of the purest pleasures that life has to give.

All detail is subordinated in Estall's work to the general effect; yet his suggestive drawing, be it of the general structure of the landscape, of the trees, of the figures or the cattle, is always true. He worked in oil, watercolour, and pastel. His work is indeed either very strong, or most tenderly delicate. Rarely, even when it is at its strongest, does he fail to translate his pigment into glowing, gleaming, or glittering light. He had a fine sense of design; and the space within the frame is almost invariably satisfyingly filled. As in nature, all the objects are swathed in air and brought by it into harmonious relations with each other.

There is no need specially to name individual works in an exhibition from which one could wish nothing away. It is a series of beautiful lyrics in light and colour, and sometimes a deeper note is touched.”

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