After Ralph Winwood Robinson, Briton Riviere, 1889

In late nineteenth-century London, it was common for the gentleman-artist’s studio to function as a space to display works of art to the public and entertain guests. However, this did not apply to all successful artists who owned studio homes. Animal painter Briton Riviere’s studio, for instance, at 82 Finchley Road in Upper St. John’s Wood, primarily served a practical purpose.[1] The house was within walking distance of the Zoological Gardens, a fact that Riviere would surely have taken into consideration when he purchased the property.[2] Wary of city life and shy by nature, Riviere would have enjoyed the distant, quiet suburbs and his unpretentious studio.[3]

Riviere purchased the Finchley Road house, which he fondly named “Flaxley,” to renovate for a studio home. Architect Frederick W. Waller (1822–1905) redesigned the house in 1880. The renovation included a studio that was half furnished painting-room, half stable with a glass ceiling, the two parts separated by a glazed partition.[4] Riviere claimed that his studio was “by no means a show one, but only a workshop of a very rough description.”[5] 

Because Riviere painted animals, he needed a studio suitable for animals to enter. A lavish, expensively decorated studio would have been impractical and easily trashed by visiting animals. An interview from 1896 published in The Strand notes that Riviere’s studio floor was scuffed and scratched by animals’ feet, with no luxurious rugs in sight.[6] Riviere devised a solution to the animal problem by decorating a small portion of the studio, the furnished painting section, to display in photographs. This “show studio" features in his portrait by J. P. Mayall, and also in one by Ralph Robinson published in the Art Journal in 1890. 

The stable side of the studio, in contrast, had a large set of stable doors for live animals, such as horses, dogs, and donkeys, as well as a pile of straw. Occasionally, keepers from the nearby zoo would bring Riviere freshly dead animals: one morning he received a lion carcass, which he would use, according to the journalist C. Lewis Hind, “the way that medical students study the subjects of the dissection-room.”[7] One contemporary account tells of Riviere warning his guests that there were horses in his studio that day, which “add neither to its tidiness nor to its fragrance.”[8]

Riviere lived at Flaxley for the remainder of his life.

Michelle Malmberg

[1] Giles Walkley, “Gazetteer Part Two,” in Artists’ Houses in London 1764–1914 (Aldershot, Hants, England; Brookfield, VT: Scholar Press, 1994), 251.

[2] Lewis C. Hind, “Painters' Studios,” The Art Journal 52 (1890): 138 .

[3] Poppy Mardall, “Briton Riviere (1840-1920) and the unfixed body,” The British Art Journal 8, no. 1 (Summer 2007): 57.

[4] Walkley, Artists’ Houses, 133.

[5] Hind, “Painters' Studios,” 138.

[6] Harry How, “Illustrated Interviews,” Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly 11 (January 1896): 4, Proquest, https://login.proxy.library.emory.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.emory.edu/docview/4161984?accountid=10747.

[7] Lewis Hind, “How Famous Painters Work: Peeps into their Studios,” The Windsor Magazine 3 (1896): 546.

[8] Hind, “Painters’ Studios,” 138.