Walter Gilbert Wiles was born in Cambridge, England in 1875. Wiles was one of the five artist-sons of the sculptor Henry Wiles. Of all the five sons, he was the most successful artist. He had an early art training in Paris in 1890, and arrived in South Africa with his father in 1902. He returned to study in London in 1911. Upon his return he briefly stayed in Natal before moving to the Eastern Cape where he initially obtained work as a lecturer in art at Uitenhage College. Later, Wiles went into ostritch farming, but a crash in the in ndustry in 1914 forced him to consider earning a living from his art. In 1915 he married Pauline Harper and they had four children.
He later went to Port Elizabeth where he became a founder member of EPSAC together with Francis Pickford-Marriott in 1918. Like Marriott, he was also a member of SASA. Early in his career Wiles painted in pastels and water colours, but later almost exclusively painted in oils. Wiles' work attracted a popular following, and his scenes of the Wilderness and Knysna coastlines resulted in these areas being colloquially referred to as "Wiles country". In 1920 Wiles held the first of several solo exhibitions in South Africa. This was followed by exhibition at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, England in 1924 where his work went on display.In 1925 he held an exhibition in Grahamstown which was timed to coincide with the visit of the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII. In 1937 Wiles and his family moved to Grahamstown and then to Leisure Isle in Knysna in 1940.
In 1939 Wiles contributed to the debate on modern art in South Africa by publishing his views in a pamphlet entitled Art ... its Spiritual Meaning - an Antidote to Modernism. Wiles' last solo public exhibition was held in Cape Town in 1942. Before 1945 he was the Eastern Cape's best-known artist. Esme Berman cynically observed that this success (and that of the Wiles family generally) was built upon an admiration for their "academic and descriptive" approach, and that this appealed to "conservative viewers whose ideal of art is an accurate pictorial record of scenes or faces that delight them" (1983:506). Wiles died in Kysna in 1966.
Exhibitor on SASA-related exhibitions c.1898 - 1950: 1943:
SASA 40th Annual Exh., (in comb. with NSA) SANG, 1 Feb. 1945: 42nd Annual Exh. ofContemp. SA Art, cng. By SASA, MMG, 6-20 Apr. 1947: SASA Members'Annual Exh., MMG, 9 - 22 Sep. 1948: SASA 45th Annual Exh., MMG, 20 Apr. - 1 May. 1949: SASA 46th Annual Exh., MMG, 22 Apr. 7 May. 1949: SASA Members' Annual Exh., MMG, 14 - 27 Sep. 1950: SASA Members' Annual Exh., MMG, 30 Aug. - 12 Sep