A painter of landscapes, figure subjects and portraits, de Glehn was one of England’s leading Impressionists, recognised for his direct, painterly style, use of vibrant colour and ability to capture the fluctuations of sunlight and shadow. Born in London as Wilfrid Gabriel von Glehn, he was of French, Estonian and Scottish ancestry. He converted his name to the less German-sounding ‘de Glehn’ during the Great War. He attended Brighton College and the Government Art Training School, South Kensington, before going to Paris in 1890. There he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he received instruction from Gustave Moreau and Elie Delaunay.
The defining point in his career came in 1891 when, though still a student, the American mural painter Edwin Austin Abbey invited him to go to Fairford, in Gloucestershire, to assist him with his murals for the Boston Public Library. There, in November of that year, de Glehn met and began a lifelong friendship with John Singer Sargent, who had also come to Fairford to work on the Boston Library murals.
Through his connection with Sargent and Abbey, de Glehn became closely involved with Anglo-American art circles, fraternizing with a group of prominent cultural figures that included painters, architects, novelists and collectors of considerable fame. In the late nineties he exhibited regularly at the New Gallery where he showed works which were Symbolist in character. A friend of Henry Tonks and Philip Wilson Steer, he joined the New English Art Club in 1900.
His ties to the United States were further strengthened in 1904 when he married Jane Erin Emmet, the American born painter and cousin of the novelist Henry James. Another of Jane’s cousins, Ellen Emmet Rand, and her sisters Rosina Sherwood and Lydia Field, were also well-known painters, firmly established in New York’s art circles.
From probably as early as 1898 and certainly from 1902, Wilfrid and Jane, along with Sargent’s sister Emily, Eliza Wedgwood and several others, became regular members of John Singer Sargent’s summer painting expeditions. These took place almost every summer, starting in July and sometimes lasting until as late as November. Often setting up easel within sight of one another, during the years preceding the Great War, Sargent and Wilfrid painted the sun-drenched landscapes of southern Europe. Together they visited Spain, Corfu, Venice, Lake Garda, Florence and Frascati.
By this stage De Glehn was exhibiting widely – he showed at the Paris Salon, the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. The first solo exhibition of his work was held at the Carfax Gallery in 1908. He was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1923 and Member in 1932.