On this day in 1880, artist Harold Wyllie was born. A renowned marine artist, he painted in oil and water colour as well as etching and sculpture, with work exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Marine Artists. His images of HMS Unicorn are available in the shop as postcards.
The cabin doors found on the gun deck were donated by Wyllie for the HMS Unicorn museum.
Wyllie was the eldest of 9 children born to artist William Lionel Wyllie (known as W.L Wyllie, 1851 –1931) and Marion Carew (1860 – 1937). Like his father he became interested in maritime subjects, and was especially interested in the development of the sailing ship. He researched the subject in-depth and eventually became a recognised expert.
In 1898, Wyllie visited New York to work as an artist on Graphic magazine – where his father had also worked at the beginning of his career. However, his time in the USA was short-lived; in 1900 he received a commission to join the army and fought in South Africa during the Boer War (1899 –
1902). During his time there he was Lieutenant in the Royal West Kent regiment, gaining a Queen’s medal and three bars. After the war was over he continued painting, and had exhibitions in the Royal Gallery and across England.
During the First World War, Wyllie volunteered in the Royal Flying Corps as a pilot in both France and the UK. His plane was a FE2B and tasks included sketching enemy positions and marking the frontlines on maps. In 1916, he was posted to the Wiltshire Regiment as a regular army officer, being granted a permanent rank of mayor and being awarded an OBE in 1919. In 1920 Wyllie retired from the army as a Lieutenant Colonel. He and his father were appointed to the committee to restore HMS Victory and were heavily involved in moving the ship into dry dock in 1922. Wyllie also designed the re-rigging and would later build a model of HMS Victory. In 1934, he served as Honourable Marine Painter to the Royal Yacht Squadron.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Wyllie was granted a temporary commission in the R.A.F.V.R but in 1943 was transferred to the R.N.V.R as a Lieutenant for Special Duty and commanded HMS Implacable, then being used as a Training Ship. After the war ended, Wyllie was part of the team to restore HMS Foudroyant and when the Foudroyant Trust was set up in 1949, Wyllie retired to Dunkeld in Perthshire with his wife, fellow artist Hilary Strain (1884 – 1960). He was also Vice President of the Society of Marine Artists in 1958.
Wyllie was still accepting commissions until his nineties, and he died in London on 22nd December 1973, aged 93. His obituary notes ‘It must be a rare achievement for anyone, and in particular for an artist, to have had such a distinguished career in three wars in all three of the Armed Services’.