This decorative early 20th-century landscape painting began with a mystery and unfolded into a fascinating story of a gregarious interior designer. When we acquired the piece, it was listed as an unknown artist and signed ‘Solby’. Clues were limited aside from two labels on the reverse, which referred to the American Decorating Shop in Spokane, Washington. But undeterred, we began researching the various Solbys living in Washington at the time and managed to locate its creator.
William J Solby (1875-1928) was a fascinating character that ran the American Decorating Shop together with his wife. He was highly regarded locally as a man with a keen decorative eye who worked on several prestigious design projects. In one such commission, he was responsible for the interior of the glamorous Desert Hotel in Spokane. At the time, Art Deco was all the rage and Solby blended this with an Egyptian-inspired theme.
As a local man of some repute, his name appears in numerous articles from the early 20th-century - particularly due to his home, which he designed and decorated himself. Solby was Danish and sought to create a little piece of Denmark in a rural area of Rockwood. A lengthy interview speaks glowingly of his achievements:
“This is the house that Solby built and it looks not like a house in real life, but as if you were seeing one of those little domiciles in the fairy stories, those little hunting lodges in the woods, the little cottage where Little Red Riding Hood went to see her grandmother or where Hansel and Gretel scattered the white pebbles so they could find their way home.”
“Some 300 people stood in front of it one Sunday, staring in amazement at the bravery of its colors … It is tinted a salmon pink with window trims in turquoise blue.”
Aside from his work as an interior designer, Solby also created colourful landscape paintings to complement his interiors. He was a proponent of bold colours and believed that colourful artwork is a vital element of contemporary living.
In 1928, he passed away while producing a play - as theatre was another of his creative pursuits.
The painting is signed ‘Solby’ in the lower right and housed within its original frame. Interestingly, we discovered the piece in Denmark, so somehow it found its way home.
Medium: Oil on canvas Overall size: 21½” x 25½” / 55cm x 65cm Year of creation: c. 1920 Provenance: Denmark Condition: Very presentable. Frame with a little wear.