Ingram, William Ayerst (1855-1913)

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William Ayerst Ingram was a major figure in the art of Falmouth. Together with Tuke he founded the first Falmouth Art Gallery in 1894 and attracted work to exhibit there from artists such as James Abbott Mcneill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, Walter and Sophie Anderson, Stanhope Forbes, Charles Napier Hemy and Thomas Cooper Gotch.

His friend Whistler described Ingram as his 'valiant lieutenant' because of the support he provided during heated meetings of the Royal Society of British Artists.

Ingram was born in Twickenham on 27th April 1855, the son of George Simpson Ingram, a minister, and Catherine Hail Brown. His mother died when he was three and his father remarried the following year. As a boy he travelled to Australia and continued to travel throughout his life.

He began his career as a landscape painter, studying under John Steeple (1823-1887) and Augustus Walford Weedon, RI, RBA (1838-1908).

From the 1880s he spent his time between Cornwall and London, with trips abroad in between. His brother married the daughter of Charles Dowdeswell of the Dowdeswell Galleries, which strengthened Ingram's long connection with the gallery and it appears the artist also did a little picture dealing as well as exhibiting there.

In 1881 Ingram was in Newlyn, where he met Walter Langley and through him exhibited at the Dudley Gallery, London. In the summer of 1883 Ingram was painting in both Newlyn and St Ives, and it was probably through Ingram's recommendation that his friend Whistler was attracted to St Ives in the winter of 1883-84, accompanied by Mortimer Menpes (1855-1938) and Walter Sickert (1860-1942). Whistler painted a number of delightful small oil studies, which he exhibited at Dowdeswell in May 1884, writing about the visit "The sea to me, is, and always was most fascinating. Perhaps you think that there is a novelty about the little things I bring back....I am doing things quite new here."

Ingram was elected a member of the Society of British Artists in 1883, and through his influence his friends George Percy Jacomb- Hood, MVO, RBA, RE (1857-1929) and Whistler were elected the following year, with Whistler becoming President in 1886.

In the summer of 1884 Ingram and Tuke were recorded in Fowey on the yacht 'Verbena', which Ingram had chartered for a painting trip, together with a crew in order to sail along the south coast from the Needles to Falmouth. During the course of the journey they were joined by Gotches, who had returned from Australia, and Jacomb- Hood.

The works Ingram painted on this trip were exhibited in February 1885 at the Dowdeswell Galleries, after which, encouraged by Gotch, he left for Australia. Although the 'Melbourne Argus' reported that the visit was for his health, he took eighty watercolours by selected artists to establish an Anglo-Australian Art Exhibition, which was held in Fletcher's Gallery, Melbourne, in October of that year.

By 1886 Ingram was back in England, spending part of the summer in Newlyn, lodging at Belle Vue, and enjoying the company of the Gotches and Stanhope Forbes. The same year Ingram had an exhibition entitled 'Two Years Afloat' at the Boussod Valadon et Cie in Paris, which was one of the Goupil galleries renamed after his temporary retirement. It contained about fifty watercolour and oil paintings and received complimentary reviews.

In April 1887 he exhibited a very large and ambitious wreck scene entitled 'Helpless', in which the figures were painted by Gotch. The copyright for his work is not available so it may have been commissioned for an engraving. The same year he was elected President of the Anglo-Australian Society of Artists. Together with Gotch and Sir Alfred East, the artists painted a series of Cornish paintings for a joint exhibition at the Fine Art Society in 1888.

In February the following year he sailed for Sydney to superinted the mounting of the first Anglo-Australian Society of Artists exhibition at the National Gallery there. His return to England coincided with Queen Victoria's conferring on the society title of Royal (a similar honour Whistler achieved for the Society of British Artists in 1887).

In March 1890 the New Street Gallery held an exhibition of thirty-five of Ingram's sea paintings, which again attracted good reviews. By June of that year the 'Falmouth Packet' reported that "Mr W. Ayerst Ingram has recently taken up residence in Falmouth and was erecting a studio in a picturesque corner of the Docks estate." By 1891 he was living at 6 Wodehouse Terrace and remained there until at least 1895, during which time he held another well-received exhibition at the Dowdeswell Galleries of about seventy paintings depicting his voyages to Australia.

Ingram was the driving force behind the opening of the first Falmouth Art Gallery in May 1894. It was located at Grove Place to Arwenack House. Henry Scott Tuke was a fellow director, and John Eva Downing and Charles Napier Hemy lent their support. The very first exhibition opened on 13th July 1894 featuring works by Sophie and Walter Anderson, Mrs Genn, Miss Ethel Patey, Charles Davidson, Charles Topham Davidson, Richard Harry Carter, W. H. Humphris and of course Tuke, Hemy and Ingram. At the second exhibition in November Whistler and Sargent contributed.

Tukes interest in the art gallery waned but Ingram's energy continued to make it a success. In 1896 he went to America, returning with his new wife May Martha (nee Fay) whom he married in Falmouth, Massachusetts. His wife's family were soap manufacturers with mining interests. In letters to Whistler between 1886 and 1888 he mentions an American lady that he had met, which could have been his future wife.

The couple lived at 'Dolvean', Melvill Road, Falmouth from 1897 until at least 1901. During this time he continued to exhibit at the first Falmouth Art Gallery as well as internationally, and travelled widely, mainly to London (where they entertained Sargent and Tuke), America and Italy. Both he and his wife were painted by Tuke in April 1899.

Their son, Martin, was born on 3rd January 1903, and the couple moved their new baby to the artist's final home at 'Tegurrian', Witton Villas, Woodlane, Falmouth. The following year, in Falmouth, Ingram met William Booth who had founded the Salvation Army. Ingram and his wife were so impressed that they set up the Boys Club in Falmouth, particularly to help the homeless.

In 1911 census records that the visitors staying with them were Harold and Laura Knight. They appear to have had constant visitors including the artists Frank Kelsey (1887-1923), Thomas Alexander Harrison (1853-1930), the Garstins and Balder Ricard Knutzen (born 1862). From 'Tregurrian' he was invited to hang paintings at the International Exhibition in Rome, and sent two.

His health began to deteriorate late in 1912 and on 20th March the following year he died at home aged 58 years. At the time he was in the process of organising an art exhibition in South Africa. He was buried in Falmouth cemetery and the funeral was attended by Jacomb-Hood, Stanhope Forbes, John Riley Wilmer and Norman Garstin. His good friends Gotch and Tuke were unable to attend, Gotch being in South Africa and Tuke Italy.

In April the following year a large memorial exhibition was held at Dowdeswell Galleries. A bronze memorial bust and plaque was designed in Ingram's memory by Alfred Drury and unveiled by Jacomb-Hood in King Charles the Martyr Church, Falmouth in January 1916.