Portrait of Sir William Blake Richmond RA, aged about 15 – by George Richmond RA


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A recently discovered Portrait of the artist Sir William Blake Richmond RA, aged about 15 (b.29 Nov 1842-d.11 Feb 1951) by George Richmond RA (1809-1896). Watercolour over pencil with white highlights on wove paper, laid onto a thin sheet of smooth paper.

Sheet: 16 5/8 x 12 2/8 in. (42.3 x 31 cm.)
Pencilled guide for the original mount: 15 1/8 x 11 3/8 in. (38.4 x 28.9 cm.)

Condition: The picture would benefit from a clean otherwise it is in very good condition. We have some partial remains of the original mount, but the original frame is missing.


This sketch was possibly taken around the time WBR was accepted for a full year’s tuition by the Royal Academy Council. The course was accepted in March 1858 when WBR would have been 15 years of age. The method of painting is typical of GR, applying great attention to the face and hands with loose brushwork in the surrounding areas, then finished with a few dashes of white body colour for highlights. Some time ago we had a similar study ‘Portrait of Mr. Hardinge Gifford Follett’ by GR (now sold). It would seem that GR would do a preparatory sketch before completing a final work which he then signed. The sitter appears to be anywhere from 14 to 16 years of age, so is likely to have been painted sometime from 1856 to 1858.

George Richmond drew and painted WBR several times including the ‘illustrated’ oil painting, taken when he was twelve years of age (private collection). The other illustrated example is a rare etching done by himself, about 1863, aged 20-21. (previously with our gallery). The accentuated eyes in the etching was likely to be a reflection of his admiration for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. A watercolour signed and dated 1863 associated with the etching (pose in reverse), head and shoulders to right (previously with our gallery) is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Previously this picture was with Nicholas Cox ‘Period Portraits’ described as being ‘traditionally identified as John Clare by George Richmond RA’. This is incorrect, in 1809 when GR was born, John Clare (1793-1864) would have been 16 years of age.


Richmond, George (1809-1896)

George Richmond was born to Thomas and Ann Richmond on the 28th March 1809. A natural facility for draftsmanship revealed itself at an early age. He is one of the youngest students ever to have been admitted to the Royal Academy schools. The Academy permanent collection holds drawings made by Richmond while studying in the school of the Antique. 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 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, residing together and developing their aesthetic theory. They lived simply and worked hard. 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 artistically. It was impossible to follow the eclectic road taken by the Ancients and feed all the hungry mouths. The ramifications of this situation remained with Richmond for the rest of his professional life. Richmond was an extremely religious young man. His beliefs chimed with the growth of evangelical devotion and he found a fellow communion among the members of 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 Clapham group. It was through Inglis that Richmond received an important commission in 1832. Richmond landed a coup in painting the great emancipator, William Wilberforce. The positive public response to this portrait established Richmond, almost overnight, with a successful portrait practice. 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. Richmond's experiences in Italy are recorded in his journals, which comprise part of this archive. 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. His learning in art practice and art history 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 flagged in the 1870's and 1880's. His residence, Porch House, in Potterne, Wiltshire, was regarded as a model of sensitive architectural restoration. He declined the position of director of the National Gallery at least once, citing ill health. Health was a perennial concern of this long-lived hypochondriac. 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.