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Choir Boys Singing by William Herbert Allen

A head and shoulder portrait of three choristers wearing white ruffs at their necks, red cassocks and white surplices; they stand behind an organ and look upward while they sing. Allen executed a coloured study depicting five similarly dressed choristers inscribed 'The Salisbury Festival' (679); as a youth, the artist was a chorister at St Thomas, Charterhouse, he was later a member of the choir at St Lawrence, Jewry, destroyed in the blitz of 1940-41, and throughout his life was closely associated with the church. This subject may have been inspired by a print from the artist's collection after a painting by Domenichino (1581-1641) 'Praise Ye the Lord' showing angels similalrly grouped and singing, thier eyes heaven ward and their mouths opened in voice.

W H Allen

WH Allen's life as a working artist spanned more than fifty years, from the late 1880s to the early 1940s. During that time he painted many thousands of pictures, mainly in watercolour, of the countryside around Farnham and the north Hampshire borders but also in the counties bordering the south coast of England and on the Continent.

Allen’s personal integrity was reflected in his paintings. To him all landscapes were special. He concentrated on 'ordinary' countryside scenes, often returning to the same spot to capture the changes in light and character through the seasons. His favourite spots included Farnham Park and water meadows, Tilford Bridge, Waverley Woods, Moor Park and Mill, Binsted and the Bourne Valley. However he maintained his links with Alton, where his grandparents had lived and his parents were married, and in 1926 became a founder member of the Alton Art Society, contributing regularly to its annual exhibition.

Being himself a craftsman, Allen was able to understand an appreciate the work of people engaged in what were then seen as very ordinary tasks: the cutting and transport of timber; making of charcoal and the seasonal routines of ploughing, cutting and gathering in of crops. He left few written notes and no great manifesto for his art, but must have realised that the way of life he was recording was fading into history, not least owing to the two World Wars of the 20th century and which had a profound effect on the lives of ordinary people.

Although he clearly had a passion for the rural landscape along the Hampshire/Surrey border, Allen continued to paint during his family holidays, capturing the essence of the towns and villages through which he passed. Notably absent are any traces of mechanisation; there are no tractors, cars or even railways in Allen’s paintings, and even the boats at the water’s edge are powered by sail.

Neither are his works a slavish record, an attempt to record in watercolour what might also have been viewed through the lens of a camera. Buildings are shifted or transposed to make a more attractive scene or to achieve a sense of balance that the local townscape has failed to provide, so that an attempt to stand where the artist must have stationed himself is frequently doomed to failure.

Allen and his wife spent the last decade of his life not at Farnham but at Wylye in Wiltshire in a house they had noticed on their regular visits to Bradford-on-Avon. Stables were converted into a studio where Allen continued to paint until his death.

A substantial number of his works were bequeathed to the Curtis Museum in Alton which later became one of the founding museums for the County Museums Service.

The Allen Gallery was named in recognition of this bequest, and regular exhibitions of Allen’s works continue to be held there.

Object Details

Dimensions 30.5 x 51 cm (12 x 20 ins)

Oil on canvas


Object Number: HMCMS:ACM1943.346.154