Stephens on Riviere


F. G. Stephens, "Briton Riviere, R.A., M.A.," Artists at Home, 1884

While F. G. Stephens does not seem to have known Briton Riviere personally, he thoroughly explains not only his professional history as an artist, but his family’s, as well. Apparently fascinated with Riviere’s long artistic family legacy, he begins by delving into the artistic career of Briton’s grandfather, D. V. Riviere. Of Huguenot descent, D. V. Riviere was a student of the Royal Academy and a genre painter, Stephens tells us before going into more depth on the life of Riviere’s father, William, which takes up nearly an entire page. William Riviere had also studied at the Royal Academy and went on to have a career as an art teacher at Cheltenham School and Oxford University. Stephens notes that there were even more artists in Briton Riviere’s family, including his aunt Annette, his uncle Henry Parsons, and his sister.

When Stephens finally arrives at his subject, he begins with Briton Riviere’s birth on August 14, 1840, and then details Riviere’s education at Cheltenham School with his father, and eventually at Oxford University. Stephens notes that Riviere was a talented artist from a young age, having displayed paintings with the British Institution at eleven, and continuing to exhibit with some regularity throughout his education. Much of the rest of the chapter is devoted to listing Riviere’s paintings and noting their exhibition. Stephens also tells us that Riviere was elected an A.R.A. on January 16, 1878, and an R.A. on May 5, 1881.

When listing Riviere’s works of art, Stephens uncovers important information about his artistic trajectory. While Riviere did paint animal paintings from a young age, with his first exhibited painting being Kit and Tom Tit, he also painted portraits and literature-inspired paintings (for example, Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing). Yet by the mid-1860’s, “the painter had with true sympathy hit on a treasury of fancy the public could never turn from” in the form of animal paintings, his most popular works. From this period on his animal paintings had “still more touching appeal.”[1]

There is no indication that Stephens had ever met Riviere personally, no mention of his studio, and no evidence that he had previously reviewed his work. However, Stephens has much praise for Riviere, noting that he was an excellent animal painter whose subjects focus on “the affectionate relationship of animals and man.” Additionally, he links Riviere to more famous artists: ”He is one of the few painters who have hit the happy mean between the utter savagery and brute force of Rubens’s and Snyders’s beasts and those somewhat genteel animals Sir Edwin Landseer painted.” Placing Riviere alongside artists of great renown demonstrates a deep respect for Riviere as an artist.

Michelle Malmberg

[1]  F. G. Stephens, “Mr. Briton Riviere, R.A., M.A,” in Artists at Home Photographed by J. P. Mayall (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1884), 69-72. All quotations are from this source.


B. Riviere, The Long Sleep, c. 1867. Stephens describes the scene as "a lonely cottage, where, late one evening, a shepherd sat in his chair and slept by the fireside till the embers died with him, so that, when dawn brought the work of another day, there was no one to open the fold, and, although the eager watch-dogs clustered about his knees, and one of the leaped to lick his face, he stirred not at all."

Stephens on Riviere