William Arnee Frank, Joseph Austin Benwell's cousin

William Arnee Frank (1808-1897) was Joseph Austin Benwell's first cousin, being the son of Hannah Benwell (Joseph Benwell senior's elder sister) and Arnee Frank (1776-1859), a well-respected Bristol Quaker. He was born on 5 July 1808 at Church Lane, Bristol. Both William Arnee Frank and Joseph Austin Benwell were grandsons of John Benwell of Sidcot.  He married Martha Willmott (1815-1896) of North Pensford, Somerset in 1840, and they had five recorded surviving children. In the 1871 census, his wife Martha is also described as a 'painter in watercolours'.

William Arnee Frank was also an artist who quite early in his life, in 1831, published a series of lithographs of Bristol views, now held at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.  A number of his works are held at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery . Like Benwell, later in life he produced many watercolours, mostly of landscapes in England and Wales. 

He is mentioned in Jeremy Wood's book 'Hidden Talents, A dictionary of neglected artists working 1880-1950'.

'Although essentially an artist of the first half of the 19th Century, W A Frank was active into his eighties and was still showing work at the West of England Academy in 1891.  Little is known about his early life although he did teach drawing in Clifton and published a series of lithographs of local Bristol views in 1831.  His watercolour landscapes are well painted usually in strong colours which give them a distinctive appearance.  The subjects are mostly views around Bristol, the Wye Valley and North Wales.'

Boats of'f Steep Holm, Weston, Bristol Channel by William Arnee Frank

 Boats of'f Steep Holm, Weston, Bristol Channel 

Close-up of the small rowing boat from the above painting 

Goodrich Castle and ferry

Goodrich Castle, 1882 

These two watercolours of Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire are interesting in that both show similar scenes of an old ferry boat with figures crossing the River Wye, and Goodrich Castle in the background. The 1882 painting shows a man (the ferryman) in hat and brown coat paddling the boat, with two horses, one brown and one white with blinkers standing in the boat. A lady in a shawl with a basket is waiting under a tree on the river bank. The second painting shows the ferryman- a man in hat and brownish-green coat paddling the boat in a different pose (likely the same man?), with another man in white hat, blue shirt and braces sitting on the edge of the boat. There are no figures on the river bank. The first picture appears to show the castle from a slightly greater distance, with trees and figure in the right mid-foreground. 

They beg the question- were the pictures painted on the same day or same year? Or completely different times? The painting above and lower left is signed W A Frank and dated 1882, the other is signed W A Frank but not dated, and is inscribed in pencil verso: 'Goodrich Castle & Ferry - On the Wye'.

Goodrich castle and ferry with horses
Goodrich Castle and ferry on the Wye

        Goodrich Castle, 1882                                                                                              Goodrich Castle and ferry, on the Wye    

 Close-up of figures and boat,  first painting   

 Close-up of figures and boat,  second painting. In this image, the brown horse is looking towards the artist, and appears to have a white blaze on its head. The ferryman is wearing a brownish-green coat and is standing in a different position. There is a passenger in white hat, blue shirt and braces in this image.

Where is the location of the old ferry, and where was the watercolour painted from? Below left is an extract from the modern Ordnance Survey map of the Goodrich Castle area and the River Wye. Below right is an extract from the 1884-92 OS edition.  
The location of the old ferry across the river can clearly be seen in the 1884 map above and lower left. The ferry at Goodrich was once on the main route between England and the Welsh Marches. The ancient road between Ross and Monmouth crossed the Wye below Goodrich Castle, upstream and to the north-west of the Castle. William Arnee Frank would probably have sat on the riverbank on the other (Walford) side, just a little upstream of the ferry when he painted these watercolours. Some interesting information about the old Goodrich ferry can be found in this article about the Goodrich Ferry Oak. Am engraving by Samuel Ireland in 1797 shows that the ferry was also used for animals, as in Frank's later watercolours. 

The photos, taken in 2021 from Goodrich Castle, show the approximate position of the old ferry route across the River Wye. The small wooded area, the 'beach' and field boundaries on the other side of the riverbank match up with the features shown on the maps. This was a short visit and I was unable to get to the other side of the river to view the castle as Frank would have done in the 19th century (when it was clad in ivy and more derelict). The Wye Valley Walk coming from the south (Monmouth) veers away from the riverside after Kerne Bridge, just south of Goodrich, so the location of the old ferry may not be easily accessible now. .
Close-up of the figure of the woman on the river bank in 'Goodrich Castle' 1882 (note: photos taken through glass) 
Cattle ferry on the River Wye near Symonds Yat

Cattle Ferry on the River Wye near Symonds Yat.      

Another scene showing a livestock ferry on the River Wye 

William Arnee Frank Sidcot Skiddaw

Extract (left) from 'A History of Sidcot School 1808-1908' (1908)

by Francis A Knight

Page 191 

Extract (right) from 'A History of Sidcot School 1808-1908' by Francis A Knight

Page 321  

I wonder if the painting of Skiddaw is still there?, over a hundred years after this book was written and over 150 years since it was painted.

William Arnee Frank Sidcot Skiddaw
Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire. A Study from Nature
Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire - "A Study from Nature"

It is interesting that Frank called this "A Study from Nature". In art, a study is a drawing, sketch or painting done in preparation for a finished piece, as visual notes, or as practice. Studies can have more impact than more-elaborately planned work, due to the fresh insights the artist gains while exploring the subject. This watercolour does seem to be more impressionist in style, the brush strokes are looser and more spontaneous, the style is less structured than many of his other paintings. The painting is undated. It is likely that it would have been painted outside (en plein air) and more quickly than usual, in an attempt to capture the essence of nature.  Landscape artists such as John Linnell (1792-1882) used the term "Study from Nature" in the early nineteenth century to describe some of his works. It started to become somewhat more popular in the mid 1840s/1850s and young artists were encouraged to study from nature in various treatises. The Impressionist movement gained momentum from the mid 1860s and 1870s, particularly in France, as the art establishment started to accept works that were not in the previous formal approved style. Frank started off his artistic career producing lithographs (1830s), later turning to painting watercolours, in the same way that his cousin J A Benwell started off creating wood engravings before becoming a watercolourist . It is interesting that some of his early lithographs have inscribed underneath "Drawn from Nature & on Stone by Wm A Frank", for example 'Cil Hepsta Fall' (below), 'Harlech Castle' and 'Val Crucis Abbey'. However, I have not seen any other of his watercolours inscribed "A Study from Nature". 

Carew Castle, A Study from Nature
Carew Castle, A Study from Nature
Enlargement of the lower right corner of the painting, showing the signature W A Frank. Just to the left are written the words (just legible) "A Study from Nature"

 Lake scene with hills, 1879. Most likely Derwentwater with a view of Skiddaw 

This painting was sold at auction in 2013 described as depicting a loch with hills in the background. The painting could be a scene from Scotland, or it could be a scene in North Wales or the Lake District. 

There appears to be a white/grey church spire right centre of the picture, below the hills. The topography, small wooded island and the church spire (as opposed to tower or chapel), indicate that the location is more likely to be the Lake District than North Wales. Possibly Keswick/Derwentwater? The church in Keswick (St John) has a spire and is in a prominent position in the town. The mountain in the background could therefore be Skiddaw, possibly depicted in a rather exaggerated and romanticised manner as favoured by some Victorian landscape artists. 

If this painting does show Skiddaw, it is clearly dated 1879 and therefore cannot be the one referred to in the Sidcot book extracts above, which must have been painted prior to 1864!

View of Derwentwater towards Skiddaw, Unknown artist, 1700. For comparison with Frank's painting, the three 'peaks' on the hillside are very similar, as is the general topography. 

Present-day views of Skiddaw for comparison, with Derwentwater and the spire of Keswick St John church

Cil Hepsta Fall Vale of Neath, waterfall Sgwd yr Eira
Waterfall scene - ‘Cil Hepsta Fall, Vale of Neath’, watercolour 
Cil Hepsta fall, or Sgwd Yr Eira
Waterfall scene - 'Cil Hepsta Fall, Vale of Neath' lithograph c1830 [-1850]. 'Drawn from nature and on stone by Wm A Frank'

See below- shown side by side for comparison.

This watercolour is inscribed with the title on its reverse side. It is signed, but does not appear to be dated. It is interesting to compare with W A Frank’s earlier lithograph of the same name.

As mentioned previously, W A Frank produced engravings and lithographs early in his life (before 1830), focusing on watercolours later in life.  It is therefore likely that the dates of the lithograph and watercolour differ by several decades, unless the watercolour is one of Frank’s very early paintings. The two images are captured from a slightly different perspective and distance, but otherwise are unmistakably of  the same scene, The broken tree stump leaning out mid-foreground right centre in the painting could be the remains (years later) of the similarly shaped and located small young tree shown in the lithograph.

The location is now better known as the Upper Cilhepste Fall (or Sgwd yr Eira) in the Waterfall Country of Brecon Beacons National Park.

Cil Hepsta Fall Vale of Neath, waterfall lithograph
'Cil Hepsta Fall, Vale of Neath' lithograph c1830?.  ‘Drawn from nature & on stone by Wm A Frank’

Now known as Sgwd Yr Eira Waterfall. 

It is likely that this lithograph is from the folio ‘Ten Views in Wales’ published in 1830, as the written description under the image includes the words ‘Drawn from nature & on stone by Wm A Frank’, as do other known plates from the folio. 

Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall
Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall
Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall
Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall
Cil Hepsta Fall, or Sgwd yr Eira, 2019, and (in the image of the watercolour) over 150 years ago. 
Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall

Left and above are shown some scenes of Cil Hepsta Fall (now known as Sgwd yr Eira) in the Waterfall country of the Brecon Beacons.

We visited the site on 20th October 2019. The main path leads down to the left hand side (facing) of the waterfall, the opposite bank from which the painting and lithograph were made. 

The waterfall is one of the main attractions in the area, and you can walk behind it to get to the other bank. There had been heavy rain during the preceding weeks and the waterfall was torrential, so I decided it was too difficult to get to the other bank to photograph it for a true comparison over time. I did get almost halfway behind the waterfall - quite an experience - and got very wet! 

I can't imagine that Frank painted this scene when a very old man, as it is a steep climb to get down to, preceded by quite a long walk. So maybe it can be dated 1850s- late 1870s.

W A Frank Children fishing by a Mill Bedminster Bristol
'Children fishing by a mill', or 'A river landscape with boys fishing' signed W A Frank lower right.

W A Frank produced several paintings depicting children.  If you look carefully at the two figures, it can be seen that the child in white is painted such that his lower part has indistinct boundaries, and he appears almost to be 'floating'. The seated boy is likely to be Frank's son (our cousin) William Henry Frank (1847-1911), with the child in white very likely to be Frank’s eldest son William John Frank (1842-1843) who died as an infant- ‘watching over’ his brother. Victorians tended to be very sentimental about child death and having mementos of deceased family. The painting may reflect the family’s religious beliefs, and also may have been a way of remembering the child. Although a child may die young, they are still a loved member of the family. This watercolour was likely to have been painted in the late 1850s or maybe about 1860? The painting would probably have been kept in the family, maybe painted for his wife Martha.  Four of Frank's children went to Sidcot School (Quaker) in the early 1860s, as did William Arnee Frank himself in 1818 to 1821. It is highly likely that William Henry attended the school then. He would have been a contemporary of the artist Edward Theodore Compton (1849-1921), who was a pupil at Sidcot 1861-1864.  Regarding the location of the painting, there were known to be a lot of old water mills in Bedminster, Bristol- for example the fast-flowing Malago, a tributary of the River Avon.

'Harlech Castle, Snowdon in the distance'. 'Drawn from Nature & on stone by W.A. Frank', c1830?

As referred to above, this lithograph is likely to be from the folio 'Ten Views in Wales', published in Bristol in 1830 due to similarities in style/format/description to other known plates from the folio.  Compare to the later work depicting the same subject (right).

''Ruins of Harlech Castle, North Wales' 1882. Watercolour, 12 x 19 ins, signed and dated '82. 

These two works (above and left) show views of Harlech Castle from a similar aspect; the watercolour was painted from a slightly different angle and greater distance. They are of particular interest as the two scenes were recorded decades apart, probably over 50 years. The decay and weathering of Harlech Castle is very apparent in the 1882 watercolour compared to the much earlier lithograph. Even the surrounding walls and other structures appear to have disintegrated. I am not sure if the small building shown in the lithograph (to the right) is still there, but it is not shown in the watercolour. A major restoration project was begun after the First World War.   The two works are another example showing that Frank liked to return over the years to paint favourite scenes. 

              Children Playing, 1885 

A Rower near the Cliffs
The Old Lighthouse
'Dolbardan Castle and Lakes of Llanberis'  Taken near the Caernarvon Road

Drawn from nature & on stone by Wm A Frank

Lithographs from 'Ten Views in Wales' by William Arnee Frank, publ. 1830

'Aberystwyth'  from The Quarry, Constitution Hill , 1830

 Bristol, Lithographed and published by W A Frank, 6 Augustine's Parade

''Sidcot School from the South West' - 'Drawn from Nature, Lithographed and Published by William Arnee Frank, 5 Easton Buildings, Bristol 1831', Reproduced in 'A Mendip Valley, its Inhabitants and Surroundings' (being an enlarged and illustrated edition of 'Winscombe Sketches') by Theodore Compton, 1892.

William Arnee Frank was a pupil at Sidcot School 1818-1821, and four of his children attended the school in the early 1860s.

Clifton, Vincent's Rocks 1831

'Clifton, Vincent's Rocks & c’ (from Leigh Woods looking up the River) by William Arnee Frank, 1831. “Bristol, Drawn, Lithogd, & Published by W. A. Frank, 1831.”

This lithograph was made before the Clifton Suspension Bridge was built. Work started on 23 June 1831 (a small ceremony was held) and it took 33 years to build. The Bridge was opened in 1864. W A Frank may have wanted to record the scene before work started.

W A Frank had at least one painting sold at Christies's - 'A Waterfall in Cumberland', in 1875. See Catalogue of the highly important collection of Modern Pictures, formed by W E J Roffey Esq., deceased (cover, right).
The Young Fishermen
W A Frank produced several paintings depicting children, including at least two that feature boys fishing. Although he had five surviving children, three of his daughters remained spinsters, and only one of his two sons had a child- a granddaughter born in 1898 the year after Frank's death. It is possible that these paintings show his own two sons as children, or perhaps they were painted later in life and reflect a nostalgic longing for grandchildren that he didn't have. 

As a Benwell descendant, I am interested in acquiring my cousin William Arnee Frank's pictures in order to bring some back to the family. I would be interested to hear from anyone wishing to sell one of his works. Or if you just want to find a good home for a piece that is no longer wanted, please let me know. (please see 'contact' page) 

 Material researched and written by Dee Murray. Website compiled by Dee Murray. All rights reserved.

All images on this website are either scanned or photographed from the author’s own resources, or are in the public domain in digital format via websites such as HathiTrust, Openlibrary.orgthe Internet Archive (archive.org) or Google Books. 

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