Alfred John Wise (1908 to 1985)

Alfred John Wise was born in Toronto, Canada in 1908, the youngest son of Thomas and Florence Wise. He had one older brother Thomas Wise, who later married Elsie and they had one daughter Margaret. Alfred’s father, Thomas Wise, was a builder. He built the house they lived in during their time in Toronto, located at 123 Pinewood Road. However, the winters were harsh and Florence missed England, so they returned to the UK around 1916. The family first settled in Reading, later moving to Yardley Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham where Alfred won a scholarship to attend Birmingham art school. This was the UK’s first municipal school of  art located in St. Margaret Street. The school archives have a record of his attendance between 1922 – 1927, and some early surviving pencil sketches of his work.

As a young child, Alfred’s artistic talents were evident, and he was favoured for his skills, apparently gaining great affection and respect from his parents.  Later, he also showed a flair for dancing, teaching rumba classes from his mothers front room, where he would dress for the occasion in brightly coloured shirts. 

Alfred spent most of his working life as a botanical artist engaged at RHS Wisley, Surrey where he created watercolour paintings for selected plants, often of those winning prestigious medals and awards of merit from RHS flower shows. He was also once commissioned by we believe Sanderson’s to create a fabric design. Apparently, he placed a bee on one of the flowers, and when the company asked him to remove this, he flatly refused causing a rapid end to this business opportunity.

He lived in a caravan in the grounds of RHS, Wisley.  It was, by all accounts, an eccentric artist’s paradise, strewn with pots, paints and brushes. The roof leaked and was patched with old newspapers.  He also wrote significantly for the RHS Gardening Journals of his trips to remote islands and his interest in wildlife. Occasionally, he would visit his brother (Tom), mother and father for a meal; at this time they were all living nearby in Merrow, Guildford.  After the caravan became uninhabitable, he bought a boat on the River Wey; however, this was also neglected and eventually sank one night whilst he was asleep in bed.  

As a man, he had a striking personal appearance with a mass of dark, curly hair, a beard and he’d often smoke a pipe. He would holiday only occasionally, but always alone and choosing remote destinations such as the Scottish islands or Sark.  He never married, or had any children; he was a reclusive character who lived for his art.  He sadly died in Guildford in 1985. 

His family, through his niece Margaret Clear, are the copyright holders to the majority of his art collection still held at the RHS.

Alfred at his brother Tom and Elise’s wedding 1933.
Above with bridesmaid Frances and below Alfred is on the far left next to his brother. His father is on the far right.

Alfred Wise Publications:

Alfred John Wise’s paintings and drawings are used internally by the RHS for educational and information purposes only.

The talents of Alfred John Wise have been acknowledge in the following publication:

The Art of Botanical Illustration: An Ilustrated History. By Wilfred Blunt and William T. Stearn. Dover Publications. First published 1950, Reprinted 1994. ISBN – 1851491775.

The publication refers to Alfred’s status as a “botanical RHS artist for figuring meritorious garden plants whilst engaged at RHS Wisley”.Alfred Wise is listed alongside other botanical artists; Emily Sartain, M. Walters Anton, Elsie Katherine Dykes nee Kohnlein, Nelly Roberts, and Winifred Walker, all renowned for exceptional botanical art during this period.