The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Philip Wilson Steer, 1860-1942

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1860.12.28
Place of Birth: Birkenhead
Date of Death: 1942.03.21
Place of Death: Chelsea, London


Philip Wilson Steer was an English painter. His father, Philip Steer (d. 1871), was also a painter.


Steer studied under William-Adolphe Bouguereau at the Academie Julian and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Alexandre Cabanel. He made his debut at the Royal Academy in 1883 and at the Paris Salon in 1884. His paintings, once he had returned to England in 1884, were influenced by the rural naturalism of Jules Bastien-Lepage (At the Well, Walberswick, 1884, Private collection), the startling viewpoints and cut-offs of Edgar Degas (Self-portrait with Model, c. 1894, Private collection) and the subtle tonal schemes of JW (Young Girl in a White Dress, 1892, Manchester City Art Gallery).

By the beginning of the 1890s Steer was the leading follower of French Impressionism in England. His beach scenes of 1887-1894 were indebted to Monet and Sisley in the use of a flecked brushstroke and application of pure, unmixed colour (Knucklebones, Walberswick, c. 1888-1889, Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich). Some of his works show the influence of Symbolist theories.

Steer was a member of the Society of British Artists, of which JW had become President in 1886, and was amongst those who resigned in 1888 in support of JW. In 1886 Steer became a founder-member of the New English Art Club, and in 1889 he participated in the first and only exhibition of the London Impressionists at the Goupil Gallery. He exhibited at the avant-garde exhibition of Les XX in Brussels in 1889 and 1891 and in 1893 joined the staff of the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Steer shared with JW an appreciation of the art of the seventeenth century, particularly that of Gainsborough, Boucher and Watteau. The influence which these artists had on Steer's work is evident in the number of fancy pictures and nudes which he produced in the 1890s (Toilet of Venus, c. 1897-1898, Tate, London). Like JW, Steer was also using the Pettigrew sisters as models, Rose Pettigrew being one of Steer's favourite models in the early 1890s.

In 1891 JW paid Steer the compliment of having a painting by Steer depicting a little girl dancing on the stage of a music hall hung in the same room as his own pictures which were being exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

In 1929 Steer was the first artist to have a major retrospective exhibition in his own lifetime at the Tate. He continued to teach at the Slade until 1930 and was awarded the OM in 1931.


MacColl, D. S., Life, Work and Setting of Philip Wilson Steer, London, 1945; Laughton, B., Philip Wilson Steer, Oxford, 1971; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995; Munro, J., Philip Wilson Steer, 1860-1942, Cambridge, 1986; Munro, Jane, 'Philip Wilson Steer', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 1 May 2002).