Ouless works acquired by La Société Jersiaise

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19th Century Art meets 21st Century Technology - Important acquisitions by the Société Jersiaise - 2007 announcement by La Société

Philip Ouless and his wife

The Société Jersiaise was founded in 1873 for the study of Jersey Archaeology, History, Natural History, the Ancient Language and the Conservation of the Environment. It remains a thriving organisation today with over 3,500 members, a professional staff and a dedicated team of volunteers.

Acquisition fund

The Society maintains a Restricted Fund into which donations and bequests are deposited. The fund is subject to the strict condition that it is to be utilised solely to meet the Society’s aim of acquiring and preserving Jersey artefacts, and not for meeting administration costs.

The significance of this fund has been demonstrated recently by expenditure on two vital acquisitions. Earlier this year the Executive Committee of the Société was approached by a representative of the family of Jersey Artist, Philip John Ouless (1817-1885) offering the chance to acquire a large collection comprising paintings, sketchbooks and archival material. The relevance of the collection was immediately recognised by the committee who elected to deploy the Restricted Fund for its purchase. The acquisition process is now complete and the items will join the collections already owned by the Society and cared for by the Jersey Heritage Trust.

The painting of Thomas Sohier's farm at St Martin which forms part of the collection

Collection contents

  • 134 mounted water colours and drawings by Philip John Ouless executed between 1845-1873.
  • 8 sketchbooks by Philip John Ouless executed between 1841-1883.
  • 3 sketchbooks by Walter William Ouless (1848-1933), son of Philip John Ouless, executed between 1862-1864.
  • 13 passports pertaining to the travels of Philip John Ouless between 1839-1871.
  • Envelope addressed to Philip John Ouless containing a bill of sale and doctor’s prescription.
  • Two glass negatives by Clarence P Ouless (Philip’s son) of Philip John Ouless and his wife, taken a year before his death.

The collection adds considerably to our knowledge of the artist and his working methods. In particular it provides evidence of his travels on the continent, notably through a sequence of ten large watercolours of the Rhine executed in August 1845, a visual record of visits to Brittany and Normandy between 1846 and 1859, and several journeys to England. Our knowledge of his travels is further enhanced by the inclusion of the artist’s passports, issued between 1839 and 1871. Contributing to our understanding of the artist’s working methods as a ship portrait painter is a sketchbook with a comprehensive list of over fifty vessels with detailed measurements and specifications.

The collection is particularly strong in views of the artist’s native island of Jersey, both of the coast and interior, and includes items of topographical interest such as the site of Chateau La Chaire, Rozel, the building of the Grand-Anquette and Mr Thomas Sohier’s Farm at St Martin.

The acquisition complements the large group of works on paper by Ouless already in the ownership of the Society. These are predominantly studies of vessels produced in relation to the artist’s profession as a marine and ship portrait painter. Furthermore, there were previously only three sketchbooks by Philip John Ouless and none by Walter William Ouless in the ownership of the Société Jersiaise or the Jersey Heritage Trust. The acquisition of the group of eleven sketchbooks is, therefore, a major addition to the collection, enabling the full range and scope of the artist’s works to be represented. The glass negatives join an extensive collection of photographs produced by the studio of Clarence P Ouless deposited previously with the Society’s Photographic Archive by the Ouless family.

Digitisation suite

In parallel to the Society’s active acquisition of artefacts, we are engaged in developing cutting-edge digital technologies for the preservation of and access to collections. 2007 has witnessed major progress in this area through the installation of a Digitisation Suite at the Society’s premises at 7 Pier Road, with financial support from the Association of Jersey Charities and a bequest by the late E D H Johnson. This equipment enables high quality capture of collection items (to A0 format) for online delivery to researchers and for publication. The approach of digitising collections addresses both the aim of enhancing access and the need to conserve sensitive material by negating frequent physical reference to originals. The Ouless collection is a prime example of fine art and archival material that can be treated via this methodology. The digitisation programme also focuses on items held within the diverse collection of the Lord Coutanche Library and is being integrated with our publications remit. The first major project in this vein will be the digital publication of the two volumes of Jersey Place Names, now out of print and in great demand. The versatility of the digital format is apt to dealing with a copious volume such as the 600 page dictionary of Jersey Place Names. Coupled with the interactive presentation of the maps volume, this fully text-searchable publication will be an exciting first project to complete.

The purchase of the Ouless collection does mean that the Restricted Fund has been depleted. Consequently, the Society’s ability to respond to urgent need when artefacts of cultural importance emerge, is compromised. The Society would welcome, therefore, donations or bequests to the Fund and expressions of support for its aims.

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