The artist Sir William Blake Richmond RA (1842-1921), son of George Richmond RA, became a student at the Royal Academy Schools in 1856.
His father was a great admirer of William Blake, the visionary, painter, & poet, hence naming his son in his honour. Richmond entered the RA Schools in 1858, where he was a contemporary & friend of Albert Moore.
In 1859 he visited Venice and Padua to study the works of Italian masters, on the first of several trips to Italy. He was in Rome from 1865-69, studying landscape under Professor Costa, and learning the technique of fresco. He then returned to England, exhibiting a Procession in Honour of Bacchus at the Academy in 1869, the first of a series of large imaginative compositions, including Ariadne Lamenting the Desertion of Theseus (1872), Prometheus Bound (1874), An Audience at Athens (1874), Venus and Anchises (1890) etc. He was much influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, and many of his pictures have a similar sort of appeal, in the Rossetti or Ford Madox Brown sense, and sometimes in the style of Burne-Jones.
He was an accomplished portraitist, & throughout his life he had a considerable output of portraits of ’the great & the good.’ Like many other serious minded Victorian artists, he was not comfortable with being ‘merely’ a portrait painter. He travelled to Italy, therefore, to study great works of the Old Masters. Richmond painted large scale classical pictures following this visit. These works show the influence of Lord Leighton, in their high degree of finish, & father static nature.
Richmond also became a noted portrait painter, though his feminine portraits were criticised as
‘regarding a woman mainly as a decorative object, on whom – with rare exceptions – psychology, profundity of character and even truth have little to do.’
Among his sitters were Holman Hunt, William Morris, the author Andrew Lang, Charles Darwin, and Bismarck. Richmond also worked to some extent as a sculptor, and was responsible for the mosaic decorations in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Richmond was Slade Professor at Oxford from 1879 to 1882, became ARA in 1888 and was elected full Academician in 1895.
Apart from the mosaics in St Paul’s, two paintings by Richmond are on display at the Tate Gallery. One is a rather polished portrait of Mrs Emma Moon (1888), and the other is a small Pre-Raphaelite work, The Slave (c.1886). A portrait of Stephenson is at the National Portrait Gallery. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, another Pre-Raphaelite work, is in Brighton.
Richmond was an early advocate for clean air in London. He founded the Coal Smoke Abatement Society (CSAS) in 1898 and was a member of CSAS for a number of years. He decided to form the organisation after becoming increasingly frustrated with the low light levels in winter caused by coal smoke.
He was elected a Royal Academician in 1895. He lived well into the 20th century, when his art was deeply unfashionable.
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