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Russian Cavalry Vedette, Crimea 1854-55
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Russian Cavalry Vedette, Crimea 1854-55

Measurements: Overall: 27cm (10.5in) x 32cm (12.25in)



Watercolour on paper

William Simpson (1823-1899) escaped the deprivations of a harsh Glasgow childhood and the abuse a drunken father to become one of the leading 'special artists' of the Victorian age. He began his professional career preparing scenes of the Crimean War for the London printmaking firm of Colnaghi before travelling to the Crimea in person to make sketches of Sebastopol ahead of its fall. His special status as a correspondent and artist brought him into contact with senior commanders as well as Roger Fenton who took his photograph. He witnessed several all out assaults on the Sebastopol and was at the front when the city finally surrendered in the autumn of 1855.

Simpson dedicated his collection of Crimean lithographs to Queen Victoria whose patronage he enjoyed for the rest of his life, and he was a frequent visitor to Windsor Castle and Balmoral. In the late 1850s he was sent to India to sketch scenes relating to the Indian Mutiny. He covered events for the Illustrated London News including the marriage of the Czarevich in St Petersburg in 1866. In 1868 he covered the Abyssinian Campaign and in 1870 the Franco-Prussian War. At the front he took the precaution of making sketches on cigarette papers which could be smoked in the event of arrest as a spy. In 1873, during an around the world trip, Simpson took time out to cover the Modoc Indian War in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Two years later he accompanied the Prince of Wales on his Indian Tour and in 1877 visited the excavations of Schlieman at Troy. In 1878 he accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force into Afghanistan and later requested to follow Sir Louis Cavagnari’s ill-fated mission to Kabul, with the specific intention of visiting the Bamyan Buddhas that were to be dynamited by the Taliban in 2001.