Emile Antoine Verpilleux Biography

Emile Antoine Verpilleux




Emile Antoine Verpilleux was born on March 3, 1888, in Nottinghill, London. His primary school years were spent primarily in London, with two years in France for ages ten and eleven, and brief formal art training at at the Regent Street Polytechnic. At age 18 he entered the Antwerp Academie des Beaux Arts, where he enrolled in the painting program and studied oils, watercolors, drawing, and design. It was at this school that he met a woodcut artist (perhaps the Canadian artist Hubert Valentine Fanshaw) in his second year, who encouraged Verpilleux to switch to the printmaking program led by woodengraver Edward Pellens. Verpilleux excelled in this medium, and by the time of his departure the school had purchased several of his works for their collection and awarded him a scholarship for the last year of his enrollment. In 1910 he returned to London to work as a freelance illustrator for periodicals.

Despite the difficulties Verpilleux experienced in trying to break in to the London art scene, his consistent commercial work led to the 1910 commission to illustrate Ernest Temple Thurston's The City of Beautiful Nonsense. The job afforded him the time and funds to focus on honing his color woodcut technique. He was befriended by the American printmaker Joseph Pennell, who encouraged dealers and gallerists to consider taking on the young artist's work despite his relative obscurity. His work was soon discovered by the publishers Colnaghi & Obach, who published his depictions of neighborhoods, landmarks, and more. In 1913, Studio magazine, the much heralded art publication written by James Bolivar Manson, wrote a praising article of Verpilleux, at which point his reputation as a gifted and innovative printmaker was cemented.

With the onset of World War I he served as a Captain in the Royal Air Force, in all for a total of eight years (1914 - 1922). During this time, despite injury from being shot down twice over France, he managed to record some of his observations of wartime in drawings and watercolors; later, he would be commissioned to create a series of oils for the Royal Air Force Museum. He was awarded membership in the Order of the British Empire by King George V in the 1919 New Years Honors.

Verpilleux went back to work as an artist and illustrator in 1923, with much success. His woodcuts became focused more on color and atmosphere, much heralded especially in his compositions of cityscapes, whose ethereal depictions of depth read more like paintings. Recognition of his work soon became an international affair, and he was included in 1927's Master of the Colour Print by Malcolm Salomon. That same year he was commissioned by future U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt to paint a portrait of his wife Eleanor. He became the first artist to have a color woodcut hung in London's Royal Academy of Arts. His works were soon part of the collections of major galleries throughout the U.K. and in New York.

Verpilleux eventually began to tire of life in London and the U.K. Asthma and other respiratory issues led to a decline in health, and in 1933, he left for a three week holiday on the island of Bermuda. He would end up staying for 18 months. He then began to frequent the island for exhibitions and to begin a new chapter on his artistic path: painting landscapes. By 1938 he had moved to the island permanently. He continued to work, teach, exhibit internationally, and to take commissions both locally and abroad. During the Second World War, he volunteered once more, this time as a Reservist teaching Free French sailors anti-submarine warfare. By the 1950s he'd become established as one of the island's most prolific and respected artists, co-founding and directing the Society of Artists in Bermuda.

Emile Verpilleux died on September 10, 1964, in Bermuda.