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Western art

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The sea hath its pearls



William Henry Margetson


Dec 1861 - 02 Jan 1940


The circlet of crabs carved in low relief on the frame of this painting is integral to its success as a work of art. Echoing the seaside theme, and offering closure to an otherwise excessively open composition, the frame participates in the painting quite as constructively as the bending figure and wave-lapped beach. The cool monochrome of the location suggests an English coastal resort, though clearly Margetson had the Mediterranean in mind. His lovely fossicker is dressed to evoke the ancient classical past more than late Victorian England. Indeed, Margetson's rather dry application of pale pigment echoes Roman fresco technique. Like most of the lesser genre painters and portraitists of his day, he succumbed to the ever-virulent strain of Victorian classicism, being influenced by better-known contemporaries such as Leighton and Poynter. It goes without saying that the pearl of the title is a punning allusion to the maiden herself.

AGNSW Handbook, 1999.




Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


132.3 cm diam. stretcher; 163.2 x 163.5 x 8.5 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l., oil "W H Margetson 1897".


Purchased 1897


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

William Henry Margetson

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history


William Henry Margetson, London/England, Purchased by the AGNSW from the artist 1897. Chosen for the Gallery by the Council of the Royal Academy.

Referenced in 15 publications


Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales catalogue of British paintings, Sydney, 1987, p 123, illus p 123.

Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'European', Sydney, 1988, pp 36–56: p 44.

Anne Gérard-Austin, Look, 'From the sidelines – Going for gold', Sydney, Jul 2019-Aug 2019, pp 36–38: p 37, no D, col illus p 38.

Bernard Hesling., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'The Sea Hath Pearls, Etc.', Sydney, 13 Sep 1952.

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Paintings and Sculpture', pg. 17-77, Sydney, 1999, p 51, col illus p 51.

Anne Kirker and Peter Tomory, British painting 1800–1990 in Australian and New Zealand public collections, Sydney, 1997, p 129, no 1417.

J.G. De Libra., Australasian art review, 'The Sydney Art Gallery's late purchases', Sydney, 01 Apr 1899, p 16.

Patricia McDonald, Australia's yesterdays, 1974-1978, p 132.

Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Academy pictures, 1897, 1897, p 85.

Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Mar 1898, p 3.

Editor Unknown (Editor), Athenaeum, London, 12 Jun 1897.

Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Unfashionalble art', Sydney, 28 Sep 1952. Response to Bernard Hesling article.

Editor Unknown (Editor), Academy Notes, Unknown, 1897, np.

Australian Women's Weekly, Sydney, 07 Jul 1954.

Editor Unknown (Editor), The Art Journal, London, 1897, p 180.