Welcome to the Reverend John Louis Petit website

The Reverend John Louis Petit (1801-68) was an extraordinary Victorian topographical watercolour artist, whose work, for reasons that will be explained, has only recently been rediscovered. Yet John Louis Petit was more than just an artist, he was one of the leading architectural speakers and writers of his age, and one of very few who stood against the tide of copy gothic that was so fashionable in the 19th Century. 
 

This website has been established by The Rev. Petit Society, as part of its work to promote a wider understanding and appreciation of the Petit’s life and work, including his architectural writing as well as painting. 

The site provides brief information about our objectives and activities, services and a contact point (this page); a biography and more detailed information about J L Petit’s art and architecture on the other pages; information about Publications and how to order the book; and an exhibition of 70 or so works.

This update is from July 2020. The Exhibition has been changed and an important essay on Petit’s art by the major watercolour collector Ian Cooke has been added here.

Objectives

The Society’s objective is to increase awareness of Petit, and his achievements both as an artist and as an architectural commentator.

This is being done through activities such as research and publications, speaking, and promoting exhibitions and public collections.

Research and Publications

The Rev John Louis Petit was a famous figure in the world of ecclesiastical art and architecture in his time. Until recently he was considered a minor figure even by those acquainted with the period and was unheard of by non-specialists. This came about because Petit never sold his art, practically all of it was closely held until most, thousands of pieces, were sold in bulk lots, at auction, in the mid 1990s. Good works mixed with unfinished sketches and many works by his sisters not separately identified. Similarly his important architectural contributions were deliberately downplayed by his opponents who outlived him.

Nothing worthwhile had been published about Petit until recent times. The November 2017 (volume 18, no2) article in the British Art Journal (http://www.britishartjournal.co.uk) is the first serious overview of his artistic achievements and illustrates how his style developed over his career. This website follows the categorization in that article. Secondly, concerning his architectural writing, Ecclesiology Today, journal of the Ecclesiological Society (http://ecclsoc.org) recently published and article in their July 2018 vol 55-56 issue. This assesses his contribution to architectural thought and especially his emphasis on preservation, originality, and beauty through form and proportion.

The first book on his art in Staffordshire came out in March 2019 see details and ordering information here

Correcting Inaccuracies
The second publications objective is to correct ‘fake news’.

Earlier biographies all contained both significant factual inaccuracies, omissions and, in our opinion, over hasty judgments. Those on art dealer websites, or wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Louis_Petit) have been corrected. Ebay dealers still carry some old material.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography  (http://www.oxforddnb.com), is the major remaining problem. having agreed to publish corrections and review the balance of its entry, two years ago, it has still not actually done so, and their 10 year old inaccurate and incomplete entry, not using any recent research, is still their latest.

Correcting mis-attributions of artwork is harder. The key London watercolour dealers (Abbott and Holder, Chris Beetles, Guy Peppiatt) do not mis-attribute Petit watercolours; however those advertised by traders on ebay are sometimes not right and occasionally resist correction. Auctions are not reliable.

We are working on new publications and also provide images and text for magazine articles (10 press articles/book reviews in 2019).

Speaking

During 2019 we gave about ten talks on the following subjects:

    • Introduction to J L Petit
    • Petit’s Art
    • Petit’s Architectural Writing
    • Petit The Pioneer of Preservation and The Battle for St Mary’s

Should you be interested in a talk please contact us at enquiries@revpetit.com

Exhibitions
The third objective aims to promote exhibitions of his work, either singly as part of other exhibitions, or more importantly large exhibitions of his work only. Petit’s work and achievement can best be appreciated when viewing many examples alongside each other. In this way it is possible to appreciate the incredible range and beauty of our architectural heritage, from across Europe, and begin to see what he was trying to communicate.

The Society has collected examples of his finest work, held by the Society or by ourselves individually, to support such exhibitions. Few works are held in public collections, and even fewer good ones.

The first exhibition for 150 years, albeit limited in scope will be at Lichfield on June 27-28th 2020

Public Collections
Finally, we aimed to place reference collections of his work in museums. By reference collections we mean covering all his different styles, which varied over his lifetime, and including architectural sketches and work of his sisters for comparison, and so that these are no longer a source of confusion. The biggest public collection at present is at the National Library of Wales. It is not representative, not very accessible for most of the population, and nothing is on display; so in the longer term we plan for something larger, more central, and more visible.

The Society has been acquiring and will continue to acquire Petit’s work for these purposes. Together with its members it now has the largest collection worldwide covering all Petit’s career.

We do sell works occasionally, either to divert money to a better use or where the picture is not central to the main collection.

Other activities

We support and work with others who are also promoting Petit. Most especially:

    • the Friends of Friendless Churches, http://friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk who have taken over Petit’s one completed church at Caerdeon in North Wales, and are raising funds for remedial work.
    • St Michael’s Church, Lichfield in looking after his family’s burial vault and putting up an interpretation board
    • Lichfield District and City Councils in efforts they are making or may make to commemorate Petit
    • The Society of Antiquaries, since Petit was an FSA

Membership

Associate membership of the Society is open to those who want to help promote its objectives. Please contact us at enquiries@revpetit.com. 

The Society so far operates as an unregistered society of individuals. It will incorporate as a charitable organisation when it needs. 

Services

The Society currently offers the following services:

  1. Information and materials to incorporate Rev Petit into curricula at different levels, eg for schools
  2. Speakers for historical associations, U3A, Arts Societies. usually we charge out of pocket expenses or a fee in lieu.
  3. Organising loans of individual pictures or groups of pictures for exhibitions. Currently, directly and through associated private collections, we have access to over 450 exhibition standard works, many more sketches, and works by his sisters for supporting material and comparison. We also have copies of the majority of his 6 books and estimated 50 articles and speeches (although not all).
  4. Authentication. Since Petit did not sign his work, and nor did his sisters, most of their work is passed off as his. In one recent auction a work dated after his death was attributed to him. We give opinions on attribution, based on experience of having viewed over 2,000 works over the past four years

Contact

Please address all queries to enquiries@revpetit.com

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