When exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, in 1845 the catalogue entry for this work described it as ‘The entrance of Rio Janeiro, [painted] from a sketch by Major Wallis’. Major James Wallis (c.1785-1858) was a soldier from Cork. He travelled to Sydney, Australia, in 1814 with the 46th Regiment, returning to Cork in 1820. Wallis later served in India until his retirement in 1826, following which he lived at Hendon, Middlesex. He was an amateur artist and in retirement supervised the publication of ‘The Colony of New South Wales’, which included engravings from his own drawings. Wallis probably stopped at Rio de Janeiro on route to and from Australia. As the painter George Mounsey Wheatley Atkinson was from the same part of Ireland, he may have known Wallis.
The fact that this work is based on a sketch by an amateur artist may explain the imaginative interpretation of the landscape of Rio. However, the ships are more accurately represented. Similar vessels are seen in other works by Atkinson, such as his view of ‘An American Western Ocean Packet Anchored in Cork Harbour’ (1848), sold through a London art dealer in 1973. A smaller version of this view was sold through a fine art dealer in Dublin, in 2004.
George Mounsey Wheatley Atkinson was born in Cobh, County Cork. He initially worked as a ship’s carpenter and later became Government Surveyor of Shipping and Emigrants in Cobh. Atkinson turned to painting in his mid-thirties and was entirely self-taught. A contemporary commentator later noted that his paintings of ships were ‘faultless in every detail’. In 1849, he held a one-man exhibition in a pavilion in Cobh, marking the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in that year. He also recorded the royal visit through several paintings. Atkinson had three sons and a daughter, all of whom followed in their father’s footsteps in becoming painters.
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