Charles Allen Du Val

His life and works

Writings of Charles Allen Du Val

The writing skill of Charles Allen Du Val is illustrated by his articles in the North of England Magazine and by the five pamphlets on the American Civil War that he wrote and published in 1863.

In 1857 a major Art Exhibition was held at Old Trafford, opened by Prince Albert. To mark the great occasion a limited edition of a large and sumptuous volume called The Art Treasures Examiner was advertised as being “the only PERMANENT RECORD – Pictorial, Critical, and Historical” of the exhibition”. It was ready in November of that year, just in time to “be found suitable for a Christmas Gift Book, or an Elegant Volume for the Drawing Room Table”. (Priced however at ten shillings.) (1).

The distinguished contributors to the “Literary Department” of this work included Charles Allen Du Val, who wrote several scholarly articles on painting and painters published in The Art Treasures Examiner. Among them were two articles on Some Thoughts upon the Spiritual in Art. Others were pieces about Michelangelo and Carracci. Particularly noteworthy is an article entitled A Word to Photographists. (Charles Allen Du Val was himself an able and pioneering photographer, and the founder of a successful commercial photographic studio.) Other pieces were The Perception of Beauty and Nobleness not a Matter of Rank – there spoke a true Manchester radical – and The Vanity and Singularity of Portrait Sitters.

His article on The Two Turners stems from his appreciation not only of the more famous J.M.W. Turner, but also to his dear friend Samuel Bough, whom he regarded as being a second Turner. (Sam Bough was born in humble circumstances in Carlisle, but finding little success in Manchester despite Du Val’s efforts, moved to Edinburgh.) In an inventory of the paintings owned by Charles Allen Du Val made in 1872, the “water-colour collection includes eight or nine drawings by Sam Bough, who was an old friend of the collector, and fondly admired by him”. Sadly this personal collection was dispersed within a few weeks of his death in 1872. (2).

Charles Allen Du Val also exhibited two pictures in the 1857 Art Treasures Exhibition itself, Forgotten Vows and Recalled to Memory “which were a favourable expression of his power as a humorist, and attracted considerable notice”.

Indeed literature and images are difficult to separate in the work of Charles Allen Du Val. He loved to paint a story in both words and pictures. Many of his earlier paintings convey dramatic events in the lives of the characters portrayed. But there is always more going on in the scene than appears at first sight. Like his protégé Atkinson Grimshaw, he enjoyed subtle mystery enhanced by shafts of light. Although in later life he specialised in portraiture, he still painted occasionally in that genre for what must have been pure pleasure.

(1) Manchester Times dated 28 November 1857.

(2) Notice in the Manchester Times dated 20 July 1872.