STUDY OF CLOUDS
Inscribed in pencil l.m. Clouds from Walton 9-45 to 10:15 July[?] 26th 1881 Richmond Pin...[?]
Inscribed verso g w whi[?] [Unidentified Symbol] 3/- 2/s / Preston [see note below]
Watercolour with pencil
12 x 16.5cm
Walton, near Redhill, Surrey, was nearby to Samuel Palmer's home where he died on the 24th of May 1881. Richmond spent much of his time comforting his old friend and fellow 'Ancient' on his deathbed, as is attested to in Marianne Thornton's letter to Richmond of the 19th June 1881 (Royal Academt Archives, GRI/3/576).
The verso of this drawing bears the inscription Preston, a possible reference to Kerrison Preston (1884-1974), a Bounremouth solicitor who was one of the foremost collectors of and authorities on William Blake (Richmond's mentor). Preston also collected the works of the artists in Blake's circle: among other works by Richmond, he owned his best-known self-portait, now in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 2509).
The present work is one of a number of cloud studies which Richmond drew and painted throughout his career. Similar works include Margate, Great Cloud (1853), Yale Centre for British Art (Connecticut) (Inv. No. B1977.14.5112); Cloud Study, sold at Chiswick Auctions, London, Cyril & Shirley Fry: A Life in Art, 09.07.2021, Lot 79; Sevenoaks, Kent, sold at Sotheby's, London, 20.09.2019, Lot 649; Recollections of a Sunset, sold at Sotheby's, London, 04.07.2018, Lot 218; Sunrise, November 12, 1874, previously with Karen Taylor Fine Art, London.
George Richmond demonstrated a prodigious talent as a draughtsman from an early age. He was and remains one of the youngest students ever to have been admitted to the Royal Academy schools, wherein he learnt to draw from the antique (with two such early works still in the Academy's collection).
In 1825 he met William Blake and, along with Samuel Palmer and fellow student Edward Calvert, became devoted to the aging artist. The young men in the circle of Blake would come to refer to themselves as 'The Ancients'. The group followed the artistic principles of Blake and worked to ideals inspired by renaissance painters, particularly Michelangelo and Dürer. The party retired to Palmer's country home at Shoreham during the late 1820's, living together and developing their individual aesthetic theory.
In 1831 Richmond married Julia Tatham, daughter of Charles Heathcote Tatham. The marriage was immediately central to his life and they were to have thirteen children, ten of whom survived into adulthood. The necessities resulting from such a large family compelled Richmond to change direction in his career and art. It was impossible to follow the idiosyncratic road taken by the Ancients and support such a family. The ramifications of this situation dogged Richmond for much of the remainder of his life; though he remained especially close friends with Samuel Palmer until his death.
Richmond was an extremely religious young man. His beliefs coincided with the growth of evangelical devotion and he found fellowship in the "Clapham Sect". Sir Robert Inglis was an early supporter of Richmond, and benefactor to the children of Henry Thornton, one of the founders of the Sect. It was through Inglis that Richmond received his first important commission in 1832, painting the great William Wilberforce. The positive public response to this portrait established Richmond, almost overnight, with a successful portrait practice, which dominated his career and artistic output until the end. From the early 1830's portrait painting became Richmond's primary source of income. By the late 1830's his financial security was such that he could afford to travel to Italy with his young family and that of Samuel Palmer; with Richmond recording his own experiences in Italy in his journals, now kept at the Royal Academy.
Richmond rarely left Britain after a second journey to Rome in 1840-1841. He worked hard over the next forty years, painting around 2500 of the most prominent figures of Victorian society (with many prints after these portraits now in the National Portrait Gallery, London). Alongside this, his academic expertise in the technicalities of painting and of art history also led him to be considered one of the country's foremost experts on painting restoration. This discipline took on more importance for him as his energies for portrait work diminished in the 1870's and 1880's. He declined the position of director of the National Gallery at least once, citing ill health, a worry which dogged him throughout his long life.
Julia Richmond died in 1881 and from this point Richmond entered the last, relatively secluded phase of his life. His closeness to the survivors of the Thornton clan is particularly evident towards the close of his life. Richmond died in 19th March 1896; having seen his son William Blake Richmond elected a Royal Academician the year before.