Monthly Archives: November 2014

Charles Clarke (c. 1760—1840)

William Oram‘s posthumous book, Precepts and Observations on the Art of Colouring in Landscape Painting, was published in 1810 by Charles Clarke. Who was he, and why did he wait so long to publish Oram’s Precepts and Observations?

Clarke’s background is obscure, not least because his family was (mostly) Catholic and so do not figure well in eighteenth-century English parish records. His DNB profile suggests he was “probably born in Rochester, Kent” on the strength of some antiquarian articles he published in the Gentleman’s Magazine under the pseudonym of Indagator Roffensis (native of Rochester). However, we have no certain details. He first appears in the records when he was appointed Clerk of the Ordnance office at Chatham in 1783. He was then posted to Gravesend in 1790, and to Guernsey in 1800. Rather unusually, he retired in 1807 at the age of about 47, on a nice pension of £200 p.a. He then lived on until 1840, when he was about 80.

His series of antiquarian articles, mostly on churches, span the early period from 1783 to 1794. His antiquarian papers brought him to the attention, and friendship, of Rev. Samuel Denne, himself a keen antiquarian. A number of Denne’s letters were published by Nichols in Illustrations of Literature, and in one of these letters, Denne says of Clarke that “he is, I know, a valetudinarian, and not very willing to pass an hour or two in a cold damp place, and such is a country church in a winter month” (vol. 6, 622) and later, “at times I have discovered a degree of backwardness in him that may be, however, partly owing to occasional bodily infirmities, he being, as I suspect, of what is termed the nervous class” (662). Perhaps his early retirement from the Ordnance Office was due to ill-health. Continue reading

Precepts and Observations

William Oram wrote one book, the posthumously-published Precepts and Observations on the Art of Colouring in Landscape Painting. The book was prepared and edited by Charles Clarke from Oram’s original manuscripts notes, and published in 1810. It appears that the notes were mostly compiled in the 1750s and the manuscripts was fairly complete – there are certainly places where Oram may have intended a fuller treatment, but the core chapters are well worked out.

















Quid si Naturre fas explorare sagaci

Mente vias. Vanier. Prr.ed. Rust. l. xi.



Arranged from the Author’s original MS. and published




l.ondon :








The text stays close to the topic of the title. It is principally concerned with the choices and application of colour in painting landscapes, especially the handling of skies and trees. Oram opens with a couple of short chapters giving theoretical background to why the color of sky varies around the horizon and from horizon to zenith at different times of day, and the changing colors and details of trees at different distances from the observer. These early chapters are a little perfunctory and were possibly something he might have revisited before publication. In Chapter 5 he really gets going, with the treatment of skies and how to lay in the colors of skies and clouds for different types of light. The book is a technical manual of the application of oils. Here is a sample paragraph:

Again, for a sky with a warmer horizon, representing a time nearer the evening than the former:– Let the horizon be made with light red and white, and so growing into a bluish colour, with a small mixture of Indian red in that tint between the light red horizon and the bluest part of the sky. The clouds upon the horizon should be made up with blue and white, with lake only in their shades, and terra di sienna and white with a little light ochre in their lights.

Continue reading

Pithy Wills

Anyone who spends any time with eighteenth-century probate soon becomes familiar with the lengthy, repetitive, legalistic phraseology that permeates the typical will and which, along with the difficult handwriting, makes reading them a painful and tedious experience. It was rather refreshing, then, to come across the will of William Oram‘s grandson, another William Oram, who died in 1824. The will reads, in its entirety, as follows:

        March the 4th 1820

This is to certify to every body who may be concerned and to prevent trouble amongst relations that I will and bequeath to my wife Sarah Oram all my effects of whatever sort or property whatsoever I may be possessed at her disposal after my decease. Witness my hand William Oram.

Hogarth and the Elephantine Arch

In 1761, George III was crowned in Westminster Hall. As Master Carpenter of the Board of Works, one of William Oram‘s tasks was to construct and decorate a triumphal arch through which the King’s Champion would ride. A print of the arch was engraved by Anthony Walker:

William Henry Pyne included an anecdote about Hogarth, Hayman and other artists teasing Oram during the construction of the arch in his rambling, entertaining, and largely fictitious work, Wine and Walnuts. It should be remembered that Pyne was not yet born when the incident related allegedly took place. However, it is the only extended anecdote involving Oram that I know, so here it is (with Pyne’s epic footnotes suppressed, but eccentric punctuation retained): Continue reading

William Oram

William Oram (d. 1777) was Master Carpenter to the Office of Works when Kirby was appointed as Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew. Although he was well-known in artistic circles in his time, his star has faded. Horace Walpole, in his three-volume Anecdotes of Painting, accords Oram precisely one sentence: “William Oram was bred an architect, but taking to landscape-painting, arrived at great merit in that branch; and was made master-carpenter to the board of works, by the interest of Sir Edward Walpole, who has several of his pictures and drawings” [vol II, 711]. The DNB is a little more forthcoming, mentioning his painting of the staircase in Buckingham Palace, and his earliest known published work, an etching of Datchet Bridge printed in 1745.

Very little of his original work is known to have survived. He was popular with nobles having over-door and over-mantle pieces in country houses, as well as painting staircases. Such works have presumably all disappeared, or at least lost attribution. The DNB records his death in 1777, “leaving a widow and a son, Edward” and gives a brief mention of Edward’s own artistic productions from exhibition catalogs.

Against this rather sparse record comes a startling obituary:

On Monday last was interr’d at Hendon in Middlesex, the remains of William Oram, Esq; officer of his Majesty’s Board of Works. He was an affectionate husband, a tender and best of fathers, whose great abilities were universally known; and a sincere friend to his acquaintance. He labored under the most severe affliction for many years, from a hurt in his side. His loss is irreparable to his disconsolate widow and numerous family [Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Friday, March 28, 1777].

This suggests there may be more to William Oram’s story. Continue reading