HALF-LENGTH PORTRAIT OF A SEATED LADY, HOLDING A FAN
Watercolour with bodycolour, chalks & pencil
27.5 x 23 cm | 48 x 39 cm [Framed]
The present work's composition is typical of Richmond's portrait work in watercolours: he would often paint his sitters in imagined exteriors, hinted at in the vibrantly-coloured foliage, often seated in poses like the present subject's and with their gaze askance. Comparable works include the artist's Portrait of Edith Coleridge, sold at Christie's, London, 22.07.1980, Lot 107 (part of lot); Portrait of Selina, daughter of Col. Marlay..., formerly in the collection of Maj.-Gen. Sir John Maxwelton; and Portrait of a Lady, sold at Sotheby's, London, 12.03.1987, Lot 38 [see images above for reproductions of all three comparisons in order of reference].
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 concern 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. Richmond died on 19th March 1896, having seen his son William Blake Richmond elected a Royal Academician the year before.