William John Caparne was born in Newark-on-Trent in 1855, the son of a music professor. He was educated at the local Magnus Grammar School, where he did well both academically and as an oarsman. Between 1874 and 1876, after a brief spell as a draughtsman, he studied art at the Slade School and the National Gallery, London, the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris.
In 1877 he was appointed assistant drawing master at Oundle School where he became Art Master in 1879
In 1882 he visited the Channel Islands, Scilly Isles and North Wales; he also exhibited at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. He painted in various parts of Europe and the UK submitting works for exhibition and been accepted by the most prestigious art institutions of the day. However, he stopped submitting work after the RA refused to hang two of his landscapes in 1896. His dismissal followed this from Oundle School in 1894 for refusing to teach engineering drawings and the death of his wife in the same year. He now concentrated on cultivating Irises and daffodils and depicting every variety which he exhibited at horticulture meetings.
It was at this time that, along with his daughter, he moved to Guernsey permanently and revived his passion for horticulture and painting.
Caparne rarely sold any of his pictures during his lifetime. He painted because he needed to display the sheer joy and wonder he experienced in nature
During the 1930’s Caparne developed his technique in pastels. The immediacy of this medium must have appealed to him as he painted ‘en plein air’ (in the open air) as the Impressionists had done. The confidence of hand which came from years of sketching and painting shows clearly in these later works, which have a bold and unselfconscious quality to them.
After his death in 1940, his work faded into obscurity. At the end of WWII and the occupation of the Channel Islands, his daughter returned to England with most of his work. It was only after her death in 1972 that his paintings came onto the market and found their way back to Guernsey. The Guernsey Museum has more than 400 in its collection.
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Arts Couuncil (1990). Caparne comes to Candie. Artefact. 1990 (4). p.pp. 1–2.
Pannett, P. (1999). Hidden Caparnes are given an airing. Guernsey Evening Press and Star. 6 March. p.p. 13.