Best known as a figurative artist, William Henry Margetson was equally successful as a painter and an illustrator. He became popular as an illustrator of adventure stories and fairy tales in the 1890s, and then gained a reputation as a painter of beautiful young women, sitting or standing in contemplation, at home or in the garden. William Henry Margetson was born at 21 Grove Hill Terrace, Denmark Hill, London, on 1 December 1861, the younger son of the Yorkshire-born export merchant, Edward Margetson, and his Lancashire-born wife, Eleanor (née Bradshaw), the daughter of an engraver. In 1871, the family was living at 194 Camberwell Grove, and in 1881 at 210 Camberwell Grove.
Margetson was educated at Miss Pace’s School, 122 Camberwell Grove, and Dulwich College, leaving the latter in 1877. He studied at the National Art Training School, South Kensington, and then, from 1878, at the Royal Academy Schools, winning the first of several prizes that August. In 1881, while still a student, he began to exhibit works at the principal London galleries, including two paintings at the Society of British Artists.
Having established a studio at Ormond Chambers, 28 Great Ormond Street, by 1885, he exhibited genre scenes, portraits and other works regularly at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1885 and 1901 (and then occasionally until 1922).
In the mid 1880s, Margetson also began to contribute illustrations to periodicals. This included a collaboration – in The English Illustrated Magazine in 1885 – with the journalist and novelist, Joseph Hatton, and his elder daughter, Helen, who, like Margetson, had studied at the RA Schools, and was establishing herself as an artist. The piece was
based on the diaries of Hatton’s son Frank, an explorer and geologist who had died in 1883 in an accidental shooting in Borneo. (These were subsequently published in North Borneo: Explorations and Adventures on the Equator, published by Sampson Low.) (Robert J Kirkpatrick, 2017)
The first books that Margetson illustrated were also by Joseph Hatton, including The Lyceum ‘Faust’ (1886), a critique of Henry Irving’s production of Goethe’s Faust. He would go on to illustrate the sixth volume of ‘The Henry Irving Shakespeare’ (published by Gresham) and design Irving’s production of Watts Phillips’ The Dead Heart for the Lyceum Theatre (both 1889).
Margetson married Helen Hatton at St Mark’s Church, Marylebone, in 1889 (when he was living or keeping a studio at 1 Lennard Place, St John’s Wood – now the top section of Cavendish Avenue). By 1891, they and their first-born child, Hester, were boarding with the butler, George Gravatt, and his wife, at 7 St Anns Terrace, Marylebone. At that time, Margetson was working from 7 St Paul’s Studios, Talgarth Road, West Kensington. The Margetsons’ second child, Oliver, was born in West Kensington in 1892.
During the 1890s, Margetson established himself as an illustrator of adventure stories and fairy tales. These included four books by G A Henty (1893-98) and The Village of Youth and Other Fairy Stories (1895), by his sister-in-law, Bessie Lyle Hatton.
By the middle of the decade, Margetson and his family moved to Southeast London, living first in Deerhurst Road, Streatham, and later at 24 Hopton Road, Streatham, and 107 Thornlaw Road, West Norwood. The Margetsons’ third child, Beryl was born at the latter in 1899. Margetson also maintained a studio in the area, at Farnham Road, Streatham. In 1894, he joined the Art Workers’ Guild and, in 1896, was elected to the Royal Society of Miniature Painters. At some point after that date, he became an instructor in drawing at the Central School of Arts and Crafts at Morley Hall, Regent Street.
Following the turn of the century, Margetson continued to work as an illustrator, adding Biblical stories to his range of subjects, for such publications as Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible Told for Young and Old (1904). However, he concentrated increasingly on his paintings, and especially those of beautiful young women. He was elected to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, in 1901, and the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, in 1909.
In 1902, the Margetsons left London and settled at Bohams, Westbrook Street, Blewbury, near Didcot, in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). By 1911, they had moved within the village to The Homestead, London Street (now Corrydon House, London Road). In about 1925, they moved a few miles east to Priory Cottage, High Street, Wallingford. He died on 2 January 1940. He was survived by his wife and all three children. His eldest child, Hester, became a painter and illustrator, and married the actor, Michael Martin Harvey.
Further reading: Robert J Kirkpatrick, ‘W H Margetson’, bearalley.blogspot.com, 2017 (including a list of ‘books illustrated’)