About WG Wiles
Walter Gilbert 'WG' Wiles was born at Regents Park, London in 1875, the second of five sons of sculptor Henry Wiles of Cambridge. He grew up in a typical large Victorian family of eleven.
In the 1890s WG spent several years in France where he coloured photographs in the daytime and took art classes and learned the violin at night. In 1902 WG went to South Africa to 'seek his fortune'. After a brief period in Natal he moved to the Eastern Cape where he lectured in art at Uitenhage College, returning to London in 1911 to further his art studies. Later, back in South Africa, WG farmed ostriches along the Bushman's River near Alexandria, but when the market for ostrich feathers crashed in 1914, he turned to art full-time to making a living. In 1915 he married Pauline Harper and they had four children: John (1916), Paul (1918), Ruth (1920) and Brian (1923).
Early in his career WG painted in pastels and watercolours, but later almost exclusively in oils. In 1920 WG held the first of several solo exhibitions in South Africa. In 1924 he was represented at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, England and in 1925 held an exhibition in Grahamstown to coincide with the visit of Edward VIII, Prince of Wales. The municipality presented the prince with a WG canvas, who apparently was so taken by the work that he bought four more and invited WG to tea. His reputation was established when General Smuts chose two of his works as the Union's official wedding present to Princess Mary.
In 1925 WG moved to the Hogsback where he bought and renovated the old inn. His studio was a log cabin on stilts in the middle of an orchard. In 1937 the family moved to Grahamstown during his children's final schooling and then in 1940 to Leisure Isle, Knysna: "Because here in Knysna I knew I could find all the material I wanted for the rest of my life". WG bought the prime property at Land's End on Leisure Isle, a place from which many beautiful scenes were painted over the next two decades.
The war years were difficult for everyone and especially for WG and Pauline with all three sons in active service: John in the army, Paul in the air force and Brian in the navy (Click the [WW2] Tab). All the boys survived their wartime ordeals and went on to live full productive lives. In spite of the war, WG's solo public exhibition in Cape Town in 1942 was a sellout and thereafter he no longer needed to exhibit as his works would often be bought “off the easel” with collectors buying everything he could produce.
BRUSH WITH ROYALTY
During the British Royal Tour of 1947 WG then 72, was commissioned to paint a 4 x 6 ft scene of the Indaba at Bulawayo for the Southern Rhodesia Government which hung at Rhodesia House in London. He was also commissioned by the Basutoland Government to paint a large canvas of the Pitso, a royal gathering of the Basuto nation, to pay homage to King George VI. WG was commissioned to paint several scenes of the king and queen as well as the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret during their visit. Altogether, eleven WG Wiles canvases are privately owned by members of the British royal family. One was presented to Princess Alice. Another, on the recommendation of General Smuts, was bought by the Women of South Africa and presented to the Princess Royal on her marriage. Another hangs in Lambeth Palace.
In a rare letter to his eldest son John in 1959 WG then 84, wrote: “I think I am doing my best work these days...I paint and finish a large canvas a week, sometimes two”. Also in 1959, WG held his last public exhibition in a Wiles Group Exhibition at the Pieter Wenning Gallery in Johannesburg featuring paintings by WG, his artist son Brian Wiles and daughter-in-law Lucy Wiles. At the height of his career, WG sold a large painting to the Reserve Bank in Pretoria. The painting titled "On Trek" fetched the unbelievably high price at the time of 500 guineas.
WG Wiles was a keen angler and great observer of nature - painting what has been described as the “sentimentally soothing aspects” of the Cape especially the sea. His masterful control of light and beautiful scenes of the mountains, forests and the coastline along the Garden Route from George to Plettenberg Bay resulted in the area colloquially being referred to as “Wiles country”. It was said that during his life WG “taught and painted, farmed and painted, fished and painted and finally just painted”.
WG Wiles lived till he was 91. Such was his love for his wife Pauline, that when she died in 1966, WG passed away within a matter of weeks.
The Wiles artistic flame was passed directly to two of his sons Paul Wiles and Brian Wiles as well as to the younger generations of artists Jane Wiles, Chris Wiles, Allan Wiles, Shayne Haysom, Anne Hannaford and Liz Usher.
The map below shows where WG lived and painted during the many years he spent in South Africa:
WG at 72 by Frank Wiles
WG at 84 by Frank Wiles
Pauline and WG 1965
Chris at WG Memorial, Lands End, Knysna
Copyright © Chris J Wiles 2010 - 2014