Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Denys Wells (1881-1973)   BIOGRAPHY

St Paulís, 1945
Framed (ref: 2602)

Signed and dated

Watercolour, pen and ink on paper, 

22 x14 in. (56 x 35.5 cm)


Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 24.

Literature: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 24, page 62. 

Bomb damaged buildings - especially churches - were a common theme amongst WAAC commissions. For the purpose of propaganda such images had an obviously message about the uncivilized nature of German aggression. There was also an obvious visual appeal which linked with the tradition of picturesque and the drama afforded by the new shapes and forms of structures blasted open.  The symbol of St Paul's standing defiant, was one of the most familiar images  of WW2.

Having served as a commissioned officer with the Artistís Rifles in France during WW1 by the start of WW2 Wells was too old for regular service and instead served as an air raid warden. Perfectly placed to record the destruction of the City that he witnessed first hand Wells embarked on a series of  watercolours often painted in situ the morning immediately after an air raids. A number of these were exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, (such as Waterloo in War-time, 1943 no. 596).

Denys Wells (1881-1973)

Born in Bedford, Wells studied at the Slade School of Fine Art under Henry Tonks, Philip Wilson Steer and Walter Westley Russell before going on to continue his studies in Paris. On his return to London he was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1906, at the very young age of 25. (He became Vice President of the Society in 1955). 

During World War I he joined the Artistís Rifles as a commissioned officer and served in France for the duration of the war. By World War II he was too old for regular service and instead he served as an air raid warden. In order to record the bombed city he would often make his watercolour drawings of the ruined buildings in the morning following an air raid. In the years following the war his dismay at seeing the London he knew and loved left in ruins and then being altered by post war planners and developers led him on a mission to record the changing streets and buildings before they became lost. In addition to his watercolours of the streets of London he is also known for his oil paintings of interiors, portraits and still life subjects. 

He regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy, New English Art Club, Society of British Artists, Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and many other galleries in London and the provinces. The Ministry of Works, Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery and the London County Council bought his pictures. One-man shows were held at the Mall Galleries in 1972 and at the Medici Galleries in 1986. He lived in Malden, Surrey.

We are grateful to Sarah Colegrave for assistance.

See all works by Denys Wells