William Edward Atkins
1842 – 1910
The youngest son of George Henry Atkins, artist and organist of the Portsmouth Royal Naval Dockyard Chapel, and Sara Sophia (nee Shaw). He was born in Portsea about 1842/3. It has not been possible to find the registration of his birth to confirm which year.
He must have begun to learn his trade at an early age, either through an apprenticeship or from his fayther, as by the early 1860’s, when he was about twenty years old, lithographs, of which he was an artist, were already being published by his father.
He specialised in watercolours of ships, nearly all of the Royal Navy and had a prodigious output. He was painting in Portsmouth in what was the heyday of ships portraits and most ports had a resident artist who was able to make a comfortable living by providing Captains and officers of ships and their crews with pictures of their vessels. It is also believed that he produced some portraits in his early days as there is in existence one, said to be by him, of his brother Harry Joseph as a young man.
In 1864 he was, for a time, in the Isle of Wight staying with a Mr James Just of Union Street, Ryde.
During the 1870’s, he was appointed as the Portsmouth Correspondant and Marine Artist of “The Graphic” and held that post for about ten years until he was succeeded by W. L. Wyllie R.A.
In 1878 they moved to Ross Lodge, Green Road, Southsea, where he set up as a “Marine Painter & Artist” and illustrated is a copy of his calling card from this address, showing a list of his many illustrious clients. The house was put up for sale in 1888.
On the 5th September 1885, he left Liverpool on the “Wyoming” for a tour of the United States “for the benefit of health” but on the 7th October had returned to England as on that day he visited his brother Harry at Fareham.
With the advent of photography, the art of ships portrait painting slowly declined and with it Atkins main source of income, so that at the beginning of the twentieth century, he often found himself in straitened circumstances. Because of this, it became his custom to discharge his debts by accepting commissions for a series of paintings and examples of these were those executed for the proprietor of the Keppel’s Head, now situated on the Hard where some of his paintings are still hung, and for Frederick William Ives, who was, until 1907, the proprietor of the Thatched House, 9, London Road, North End, Portsmouth.
He died at 3, Simpson Road, Stamshaw, Portsmouth on the 8th March 1910 and was buried on the 11th of the same month in the Highland Road Cemetry, Portsmouth.
There are two drawings by Atkins in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle and a total of fifteen watercolours and two lithographs in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.
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