Artwork of the Month - October 2007
Mrs. Pinchney's garden, St Martin's
Artist: William John Caparne (1855-1940)
Status: Permanent collection
Item No.: GMAG 1980.137
A Love of Flowers
William John Caparne was born in Nottinghamshire and studied at the Slade School, London and later on in Paris. In 1880 he was appointed art master to Oundle School, but after the death of his wife and the loss of his position at Oundle in 1894, he left England and settled in Guernsey with his daughter.
While at Oundle, Caparne had begun to grow bulbs and seeds and when he settled in Guernsey he set up business as a commercial grower, specialising in Irises.
Considering his love of both painting and flowers, it is of no surprise that a large part of Caparne's artistic energy went into painting botanical studies, as well as flowers in landscapes and gardens - as in this Artwork of the Month.
Caparne's paintings were sought after by his acquaintances in the world of horticulture. His friend, the Iris champion Professor Michael Foster commissioned illustrations, as did numerous growers and customers, including the Hoog family in Haarlem, Holland and E.H. Wheedon in Guernsey.
Although he had ceased trading as a full-time nurseryman by the end of 1903, Caparne continued his interests in Iris breeding and propagation. In 1913 and 1919 he sent plants, seeds and bulbs to his cousin Harold ap Rhys Caparn, designer of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, who's father Thomas had in fact encouraged Caparne's interest in horticulture when he was a boy. Thomas John Caparn had given the young William John a portion of his nursery to use for growing and experimenting with plants.
Caparne died at Bon Port, Guernsey on 31st January 1940, and it is only in recent years that his contributions to horticulture and Iris breeding have been recognised.