Tuesday, 23 October 2012


In my last post, on the portraitist Richard Evans, I quoted from autobiography of one of his subjects - or victims -  Harriet Martineau.. There'a delightful passage a few lines later  that seemed worth sharing: rational, to the point of insanity:
Two casts have been taken of my head; one in 1833, and one in 1853. They were taken purely for phrenological purposes. As I have bequeathed my skull and brain, for the same objects, I should not have thought it necessary to have a second cast taken, (to verify the changes made by time) but for the danger of accident which might frustrate my arrangements. I might die by drowning at sea; or by a railway smash, which would destroy the head: so I made all sure by having a cast taken, not long before my last illness began.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Lives of the Artists 1: Richard Evans

Possibly the first of a series of mini-biographies of  randomly chosen less-well known painters.

Richard Evans was born in Shrewsbury. The year is usually given as c. 1783, but census returns indicate a slightly later date, of 1786/7  While young he became a friend of the Birmingham -born artist David Cox. N. Neal Solly, Cox's biographer records that when Evans was in need of money, Cox would lend him pen-and-ink landscapes to to copy and sell, Evans being less competent in the genre.   When Cox moved to London in 1804,  Evans and Charles Barber, the son of Cox's teacher, the Birmingham drawing-master Joseph Barber, both followed him south and took lodgings nearby (whether separately or together isn't clear), and all three would go out sketching together.

Evans became the pupil, and later assistant of  Sir Thomas Lawrence, the leading portrait painter of the time. He was employed painting draperies and backgrounds for Lawrence's works, and making duplicates, especially of   royal subjects. The National Portrait Gallery has Evans' copy of Lawrence's own self-portrait. After  Lawrence's death in 1830, his executors  paid Evans to fnish some of the many unfinished works left in his studio. 

Thomas Campbell, who was at once stage considering a biography of Lawrence said that no-one knew more about Lawrence than Evans, due to his exceptional memory, and his having lived in his master's house for six years. Evans promised to help Campbell with his book when time allowed, but when Campbell asked for assistance again, after a long delay, he found out that Evans had already told his stock of anecdotes to his friend Watts, editor of the "Annual Obituary" to use in his publication. Campbell shelved his plan for lack of  fresh material.

In 1814, Evans took advantage of the cessation of hostilities with France, to visit Paris, where he copied paintings in the Louvre. . Then, in 1816, in a rather surprising episode, he went to Haiti. A revolutionary general, the former slave Henri-Cristophe,  had declared  himself King of Haiti, although he in fact only ruled the northern part, the rest being under the control of his former ally, Alexandre Petion. The King created a system of nobility, and set up  a number of educational institutions, including  an academy of painting and drawing at his palace of Sans Souci of which  Evans was to become head. Evans' involvement   came about through Prince Saunders (Prince being his  given name, and not a  title), a black American activist and educationalist, who, while on a visit to Britain, had been persuaded to take an interest in Haiti by the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce. An engraving  of Saunders by Charles Turner (dated August 1816),  after a painting by Evans,  was used as the frontispiece for his "Haitian papers".

The arrangements for Evans' employment in the Caribbean seem to have been a little vague. On July 10th, 1816,  Joseph Farington recorded in his diary a conversation with the sculptor John Charles Felix Rossi, whom Saunders had also invited to Haiti, in his case to make sculpture for the king's building projects.

Rossi called. He informed me that Evans, a young artist, & several other persons conversant in Arts & Sciences, met together at  Mr. Wilberforce's on a day in the last week, and Prince Sanders, the Black Man who lately came from Hayti was of the party. The proposal of Sanders which had been made to the above persons for them to go to Hayti was the matter for consideration & it then appeared that Sanders was not adequately commissioned by Christophe the King of Hayti to engage them, & the conversation with  recommendation to Sanders to return to Hayti for more authority to act in engaging persons to go to Hayti. — Sanders being rather pressed to answer questions which He was not prepared to answer, proposed to adjourn with Mr. Wilberforce only, to another [room] where He would hare something to say to Him.
This Mr. Wilberforce declined, saying that whatever communication He had with Him on the subject must be before the gentlemen present. — Rossi, now sd. that He saw no engagement cd. at present be made with Sanders, and further He had been told that the duration of Christophe's government is considered to be very uncertain. That the Government of France for the purpose of employing troops who wish to be so, proposes to send a considerable force to St. Domingo to support Petion against Christophe & in case of success to appoint Petion, who now favour  the French, to be Governor of that Island.

Despite the level of uncertainty, Evans left for Haiti in the company of Saunders and three other specialists he had engaged in England, an agriculturalist and two schoolmasters, arriving on the  on 21 September. He painted portraits of the Haitian royal family: his first version of  his portrait of the king (now in Puerto Rico)  was sent as a gift to William Wilberforce and another was sent to the Russian Tsar. In 1818 Evans'  pictures of King Henry Christophe  and his son Prince Victor Henry were shown at the Royal Academy.  The reactionary "New Monthly Magazine" praised the works, albeit in  unpleasant terms, saying they were "uncommonly good pictures, and prove that it is not impossible to attach pomp and dignity even unto a negro: they really look very king-like personages".

Presumably Evans returned to England no later than 1820, when Henry Christophe, facing military defeat at the hands of Petion, committed suicide. He was probably back well before that as he showed three portraits with no obvious Haitian connections at the Academy, two of unnamed subjects and one of Thomas Campbell. In 1821 Evans went to Rome in order to make copies, or organise and oversee the copying by Italian specialists, of Raphael's arabesque decorations in the Vatican loggia. They were commissioned by  John Nash, to ornament  his  gallery in Regent Street. After Nash's death the copies were sold to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert) which eventually burnt them in a fit of spring-cleaning in 1960.

In June the  next year he set off for Italy again, this time in the company of his friend William Etty, another former pupil of Lawrence.  Etty at least had only intended to spend about six months abroad, but the trip turned out much longer.The two men travelled overland via Paris  arriving in Rome on 10 August.  After a fortnight, Etty moved on to Naples, leaving Evans in Rome, and  returned a month later. Etty wrote in a letter that "an arrangement has been made that would preclude my staying with him...but I must ever feel much obliged to him. He has gone about with me, and shown me things I should not otherwise have seen".  Evans based himself in Rome,  where he became a member of an academy set up by British artists, with Lawrence's backing but also visited Milan. while Etty spent seven months in Venice.  Evans and Etty were reunited in Florence in the summer of 1823  and after spending two months in Venice finally left for England in October.

While  in Rome he experimented  fresco-painting, and, on leaving the city gave a panel depicting "Ganymede Feeding the Eagle"  to the servant who cleaned his studio. The painting found its way into the possesion of Capranesi, a Roman art dealer, who sold it to  Sir Matthew Ridley in 1836,   claiming that it had been  taken from an ancient tomb in the Via Appia. In 1865, Ridley gave it to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert)  where Evans, to his surprise, found it on displayed as a genuine antique example. He convinced the appropriate authorities that it was his work, and the label was replaced. Two other frescos,  given by Ridley to the British Museum may also be by  Evans.

He continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy until 1845, mostly showing  portraits. In 1825 he contributed a "Portrait of an Hindoo" and a double portrait of " Eustratius Rallis and Stamos Nakos, young Greeks now educating at Hazlewood School". In April of that year he wrote Lawrence what, from the summary published on the Academy website, seems to have  been a rather intemperate letter, railing against the conduct of the British artists in Rome, and voicing the suspicion  that Lawrence has turned against him. I don't know if Evans carried on working as Lawrence's assistant after his return from Italy. In 1830 though, after Lawrence's death, he was paid by his executors to complete some the many commisssioned works left unfinished in his studio.

In 1834 he showed a portrait of Harriet Martineau ( now in the National Portrait Gallery) at the Royal Academy. It didn't please its subject at all. She wrote in her autobiography:

I have mentioned Evans’s portrait of me,—of which Sir A. Calcott said to me, “What are your friends about to allow that atrocity to hang there?” We could not help it. Mr. Evans was introduced to me by a mutual acquaintance, on the ground that he was painting portraits for a forthcoming work, and wanted mine. I could not have refused without downright surliness; but it appeared afterwards that the artist had other views. I sat to him as often as he wished, though I heartily disliked the attitude, which was one in which I certainly was never seen. The worst misfortune, however, was that he went on painting and painting at the portrait, long after I had ceased to sit,—the result of which was that the picture came out the “atrocity” that Calcott called it. The artist hawked it about for sale, some years after; and I hope nobody bought it; for my family would be sorry that it should be taken for a representation of me.
Evans carried on showing at the Academy until  1843, mostly portraits, but a couple of mythological subjects crept in, and he also showed  six subject pictures at the British Institution between 1831 and 1856. In the mid-1840s he moved to Southampton, where he continued to paint until his death, at the age of 87, in November 1871.

Sunday, 6 May 2012


I've come across a digitised version of Henry William Inwood's  Erechtheion at Athens. I haven't read a great deal of it yet, but browsng through it shines a bit of light on the  lives of the Inwoods. There's a rather gushing dedication to Lord Colchester.  Before receiving his title in 1817, Colchester - aka. Charles Abbot - had been Speaker of the House of Commons, and seems to have been largely responsible for the clearances of the buildings around the Houses of Parliament,  (or "the great improvements ... round and in the approaches to the senate" as Inwood puts it) to which Henry William and before that his father had been Clerk of the Works. According to  the Penny Cyclopedia, whose account seems to be the main source for the lives of the Inwoods  (even now, more than a hundred and fifty years, later the ODNB recycles it almost word-for-word), William Inwood was steward to Abbot.

Amongst the technical and historical material in the text of The Erechtheion at Athens, there's some information about Inwood's activities in Greece, including,  the acquisition of a capital which nspired some details on his own architectural work. The  Penny Cyclopedia (published by the admirably-named "Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge")   gives an account on the variation of the Ionic order which, it says, Inwood used on the portico of the Regent Square chapel   It  is described as one "met with by Mr. Inwood among some fragments on the banks of the Ilissus, near Athens, in which the eye of the volute is remarkably large, and carved into a rosette."  A review in the Gentleman's Magazine, however says that the capital with the rosette was only used in the chancel of the chapel, in an attempt at elegant variation which the writer found "pedantic" and "not altogether accordant with the principles of good taste."

Inwood's own account explains that by the time  he met the capital on the banks of the Ilissus  it had been  incorporated into the wall of a former chapel,  then in use as a shelter for sheep. It  had  previously been sketched by W.J. Bankes, and mentioned in a book by  Sir William Gell, so its pretty clear Inwood knew what he was after .when he penetrated its gloom:
"On further search…on darkest side the darkest side of the shed  within about two feet of the ground, built up in the wall, appeared the front of the present capital, with a part of the plaster that had formed the interior finish of the walls then remaining on it, which had been covered, together with the other masonry and  materials of which the wall was built."
Unlike  previous travellers,  Inwood  wasn't satisfied with making a drawing. He had to have the stone itself . The next section  of his account doesn't  show him in the most attractive light.
"Proceeding to the Athenian city, and imparting to several this discovery , a resident of Athens, of whom a fragment of  a sepulchral stelae had been a few days before purchased,  was deputed to procure it. This he described, could only be done at night, to prevent its being observed and taken possession of by any of the Turks (who would then offer it for exorbitant sale, or exhibit some arbitrary caprice of reserving it), or by any of the members  of a monastery to whom the building might have originally belonged.  He added , however, on that night himself and son would, with the proper tools, and by concealing  in a sack the marble, bring it before the morning."
The "resident  of Athens" succeeded in evading any monks or capricious Turks, and by the next evening it was packed in a case on a steamer bound for Constantinople. A few hours later he discovered that the French consul, M. Fauvel, knew of the capital, had drawn it, and intended to remove it from the shed for his own collection. Whether he  too  was going to use the nocturnal services of  a "resident of Athens" isn't made clear.
"It was impossible not to feel secretly gratified at Mr. Fauvel's, or Mr. Gropius's (who had also a collection of antiquities at Athens) not having possessed themselves of this fragment before."
There were two temples nearby, Inwood tells us, described by Pausanias;  that of  Triptolemus, and what is described as "the naos of Eucleia or eternal fame, dedicated in honour of the victory gained over the Medes at Marathon".  It was noted for the large scale on which the sacrifice of goats that went on there, which makes it  seem a very long way from Regent Square,  I don't know how much the Greek Revivalists worried about  the appropriateness of  their chosen style to church building. Perhaps the Greek inscription, translating as  "May the light of the blessed Gospel thus ever illuminate the dark temples of the Heathen",  carved on the foundation stone of the Inwoods'  St Pancras New Church indicates a certain amount of unease.

The Regent Square chapel was damaged by bombing during the Second World War and  the remains demolished in the 1960s. Ian Nairn's description of it in his book on London makes it sound an admirable ruin,  I wonder if  Inwood thought about how his work would look in ruins, as Soane did  when, not foreseeing  Nemesis in the shape of Herbert Baker, he got Gandy to paint his Bank of England as it might look a  thousand or two years in the future.

 The  capital, with the rest of Inwood's collection of fragments is now in the British Museum, to which he sold it just before setting off on his fatal journey