Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Coleman, William Stephen

COLEMAN, WILLIAM STEPHEN (1829–1904), book illustrator and painter, born at Horsham in 1829, was one of the twelve children of a physician practising there. His mother, whose maiden surname was Dendy, belonged to an artistic family. Four of her children evinced a talent for drawing. The fifth daughter, Helen Cordelia Coleman (1847–1884), acquired a high reputation as a flower painter and assisted her brother William in ceramic decoration; she married in 1875 Thomas William Angell, postmaster of the southwestern district of London; two flower-pieces by her belong to the Victoria and Albert Museum (cf. Art Journal, 1884, p. 127; The Times, 12 March 1884; Athenæum, 15 March 1884).

Coleman was destined for a surgeon, but beyond giving very occasional assistance to his father, he saw no practice. He early developed a keen interest in natural history, and in 1859 he published 'Our Woodlands. Heaths, and Hedges,' and in 1860 'British Butterflies,' both books running through several editions. He drew his own illustrations, and at the same time collaborated with Harrison Weir, Joseph Wolf, and other well-known artists in illustrating books from other pens, chiefly on natural history. In the preparation of the wood-blocks he was assisted by his sister Rebecca. The books which he illustrated included: 'Common Objects of the Country' (1858), 'Our Garden Friends ' (1864), and 'Common Moths '(1870), by the Rev. J. G. Wood; 'Playhours and Half-holidays' (1860), 'Sketches in Natural History' (1861), and 'British Birds' Eggs and Nests' (1861), by J. C. Atkinson; 'British Ferns' (1861), by T. Moore; 'A Treasury of New Favourite Tales' (1861), by Mary Howitt; 'Philip and his Garden' (1861), by Charlotte Elizabeth [Tonna]; 'Hymns in Prose for Children' (1864), by Mrs. Barbauld; 'The Illustrated London Almanack' and 'Cassell's Natural History'; and he designed the heading of the 'Field' newspaper. At the same time he executed numerous water-colour drawings, chiefly landscapes with figures, somewhat after the manner of Birket Foster, and pretty semi-classical figure subjects. He also executed some etchings, occasionally worked in pastel, and painted in oil. He was a member of the original committee of management of the Dudley Gallery, contributing to the first exhibition in 1865. He continued to exhibit till 1879, and remained on the committee till 1881.

In 1869 he began to experiment in pottery decoration; Minton's Art Pottery Studio in Kensington Gore was established under his direction in 1871, and he executed figure designs for Minton's ceramic ware. He died after a prolonged illness at 11 Hamilton Gardens, St. John's Wood, on 22 March 1904. His widow survived him.

At the Bethnal Green Museum is a water-colour drawing of a girl with basket of coral by him, and an oil painting, 'A Naiad,' is at the Glasgow Art Gallery. An exhibition of figure subjects, landscapes, and decorative panels by Coleman was held at the Modern Gallery, 61 New Bond Street, Oct.-Nov. 1904. His portrait was painted by F. C. King.

[Roget, Old Water Colour Society, ii. 424; Graves, Dict. of Artists; Brit. Mus. Cat.; E. C. Clayton, English Female Artists, ii. 47-67; Coleman's autograph letter of 2 March 1880 in copy of his British Butterflies in Kensington Public Library; Cat. Dudley Gallery, Glasgow Art Gallery, and Victoria and Albert Museum (water-colours); Art Journal, 1904, pp. 170 and 393; The Times, 28 March 1904; Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 9 Oct. 1904; Queen, 22 Oct. 1904.]

B. S. L.