Frank Dudman, J. P. Mayall’s assistant, captured this photograph of Richard Redgrave in the fall of 1883. The photograph was taken in Redgrave’s home at 18 (now 27) Hyde Park Gate in London.[1] At the time the photograph was taken, Redgrave was almost completely blind, and had retired from his career both as an artist and a civil servant.[2] Nevertheless, Dudman has posed Redgrave between the two easels, palette in hand. The tall easel behind the artist holds a framed, finished painting, but the easel in front props up a small, unframed landscape that may be unfinished; it is not unlike the earthy English country scenes that Redgrave painted from the 1850s onward. While this arrangement of artistic attributes implies that the artist is at work, Redgrave is clearly not in the process of painting. His gaze circumvents the easel as he stares blankly with drooping eyelids toward the upper left corner of the frame. Why did Dudman choose to create a portrait consistent with that of an active artist, even though it was common knowledge that Redgrave was no longer able to paint? One reason might be the need for visual consistency among the images in Artists at Home, where many artists are shown with the common tools of their trade. Another might be the desire to show that Redgrave’s past as an artist remains a fundamental part of his identity, regardless of the fact that he is no longer able to paint.  

Redgrave sits on the right side of the frame, leaning back slightly against the tall, ornately carved back of his studio chair, his legs crossed. If not for the stiffness of the pose, it might convey an air of  leisure and relaxation. The artist holds his mahlstick straight up, perpendicular to the arm of the chair; his head does not rest so much as it lightly touches the back of the chair, supporting its own weight.  Beside the easel stands a small table with various objects arranged on top, including several vases and a corked bottle. Behind Redgrave is a chest of drawers, with a large, handled urn on top, similar to one on the floor beside the artist. The visible part of the room is divided into two levels, the higher one sectioned off by a banister. The short staircase that connects them is partly blocked by an oriental cabinet—an impractical arrangement that suggests it may have been moved there by the photographer to make Redgrave’s studio more consistent with the ornately decorated studios that were fashionable at the time. The photograph as a whole has a distinctively diagonal composition: Redgrave’s crossed legs, right arm, and angled head create a line continued by the side table in front and the chest of drawers behind him. The staggered paintings on the easels echo this sense of movement, while the sitter himself appears comfortably stable.

The photogravure was released to the public as part of the third installment of Artists at Home, in May 1884.

Karuna Srikureja

[1] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. “Redgrave, Richard (1804-1888)," by Kathryn Moore Heleniak,, accessed 5 Oct 2016

[2] Ibid.