Ouless works acquired by La Société Jersiaise

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Ouless and wife.jpg

Ouless works acquired by
La Société Jersiaise
and Jersey Heritage

Ouless-Thomas Sohier farm.jpg

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

La Société Jersiaise - 2007

Acquisition fund

La Société 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 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 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 and cared for by the Jersey Heritage Trust.

The self-portrait which was part of the 2024 acquisition

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 La Société. 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 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 with La Société'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 La Société'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 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, La Société's ability to respond to urgent need when artefacts of cultural importance emerge, is compromised.

Jersey Heritage - 2024

A collection of oil paintings, watercolours and photographs by Ouless was acquired by Jersey Heritage in 2024 - the charity’s largest art purchase. Comprising more than 70 pieces by Philip John Ouless and members of his family, the collection came directly from the artist’s descendants who had held the works since his death in 1885.

Senior registrar Helena Kergozou said Jersey Heritage was extremely grateful for having been given first option to buy the collection, which cost just over £70,000:

"This is a very exciting moment for Jersey Heritage, particularly for the collections team. It is our biggest art purchase to date, and this large collection of Ouless artworks represents an incredible addition to our art collection which helps us to tell the stories of Jersey’s most important artists,” she said.

While the collection managed by Jersey Heritage already contained works by Ouless, many relate to the artist’s commercial work as a marine portraitist. However, the new acquisitions offered an insight into Ouless’s private life, with portraits of his wife and children and paintings from his travels around Europe, as well as a number of landscapes of Jersey that have never been seen publicly.

One highlight is an oil on canvas self-portrait, created in the artist’s later life, a counterpoint to another self-portrait in the existing collection dating from 1840, when he was 23.

The additions also include photographs taken by Ouless’s son, Clarence Ouless; two oil paintings by another of his sons, Walter William Ouless, who went on to exhibit at the Royal Academy; and a painting by Catherine Ouless, his granddaughter.

In a statement, the Ouless family said: “We are delighted that this important collection has returned to the Island and been placed in the expert care of Jersey Heritage for the people of Jersey. Among the many views of the Island and the places to which he travelled are our family portraits, including a self-portrait of Philip and of his wife and children. While the portraits have great personal significance and have been in our family for over 150 years, we recognise their historical importance and how much they contribute towards an understanding of the artist as a person.”

Family tree


Descendants of Philippe Joseph Oulez

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