makers / Walter Dendy Sadler

Walter Dendy Sadler


Dendy Sadler was born in Dorking, and brought up in Horsham, where he showed a precocious talent for drawing. At age 16 he decided to become a painter and enrolled for two years at Heatherley's School of Art in London, subsequently studying in Germany under W. Simmler. He exhibited at the Dudley Gallery from 1872 and at the Royal Academy from the following year through to the 1890s.

He painted contemporary people in domestic and daily life pursuits, showing them with comical expressions illustrating their greed, stupidity etc. Dendy Sadler was best known for his pictures of monks - his reputation was established with a picture of monks fishing called Steady Brother, Steady (1875), and his most well-known paintings are Thursday (Tate Gallery, and incidentally one of the first three pictures in Henry Tate's collection) also showing monks fishing, and Friday (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), where they are consuming their catch the next day. The monks are characterised as good natured but foolish looking fellows. The combination of realism with whimsicality follows an English tradition of almost slapstick humour, which seems to work better as black and white illustration in the pages of Punch or in light-hearted articles by artists such as Harry Furniss. Another slightly whimsical picture is End of the Skein at the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Perhaps more to modern taste are Sadler's less blatant pictures, as in For Fifty Years (1894), showing an old gentleman happily offering his arm to his blank-faced bored wife - for him 50 years of domestic bliss, for her half a century of increasing dullness. In pictures like this, or An Offer of Marriage of 1895, Sadler also gives some of the best studies of Victorian interiors, and is considered one of the true masters of domestic genre along with his contemporary Frank Moss Bennett.

His subjects were usually set in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries with sentimental, romantic and humorous themes. Before painting a scene he would create elaborate settings in which local villagers would often pose as models. Indeed, as he often used the same props and models, these can sometimes be seen repeated in successive paintings in different guises.

He was criticised for this background detail, as it detracted from the subjects of his pictures, but it seems fair for a whimsical painting to provide encouragement for the eye to wander around the scene rather than being pushed too hard towards the 'point'. As well as the paintings in galleries noted above, A Summer's Day is in the Joslin Memorial Art Gallery in Omaha, Nebraska.