Biographical sketch of Richard Redgrave

Date Created

c. 1884


Frederick George Stephens (1828-1907), author and editor


F. G. Stephens, Artists at Home, photographed by J. P. Mayall and reproduced in facsimile by photoengraving on copper plates; edited, with biographical notes and descriptions, by Frederick George Stephens (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington; New York: Appleton & Co., 1884), pp.35-38


Redgrave, Richard (1804-1888), English painter

Date Issued

May 1884


Stephens provides an outline of Redgrave’s early life, describing his background in his father’s business and his self-education in art. This short biography is followed by an overview of Redgrave’s career, including his turn to the pathetic genre subjects that made him popular. Stephens lists a long string of works exhibited by Redgrave, illustrating how regularly his works were shown, and then provides some description of Redgrave’s various posts in public service and a list of some of his publications. Stephens ends his texts by praising Redgrave’s long and varied career and telling the reader that Redgrave has now retired from public life.


Richard Redgrave, “British Artists: Their Style and Character,” Art Journal 21 (1859): 205.
Richard Redgrave, “Autobiography of Richard Redgrave,” Art Journal 12 (1850): 49.
J. Dafforne, “British Artists: Their Style and Character. No. XLV.—Richard Redgrave, R.A.,” The Art Journal 5 (July 1, 1859): 205-7.


The online edition of this work in the public domain, i.e., not protected by copyright, has been produced by the National Gallery of Art.




Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Omeka record contributed by Karuna Srikureja

Date Submitted

September 29, 2016

Date Modified

October 27, 2016 (by LM)
December 6, 2016, by LM





 ON the day before that on which this memoir is dated, the venerable artist and energetic public servant whose name it bears will have completed his eightieth year. It is our privilege to wish him “Many happy returns of the day.”

            Mr. Redgrave’s life began, as above suggested, on the 30th of April, 1804. The son of a manufacturer, he was, as we learn from an autobiographical note communicated (February, 1859) to the “Art Journal,” born in Pimlico, where, after leaving school, he entered the counting-house of his father, who entrusted him with the duties of making the designs and working drawings for the men employed, and journeying into the country to measure and direct the works in progress. According to the same authority, this business did not prosper, and the boy was allowed to follow his early-manifested inclination for art, which had been occasionally directed to landscape painting. He began to draw from the Elgin Marbles in 1822, from which date we may reckon his serious studies. His first appearance in an exhibition was at Somerset House in 1825, where, No. 273, “River Brent, near Hanwell,” was hung in the School of Painting, and attracted no attention whatever. He was admitted a Student of the Royal Academy in 1826. Compelled to gain a livelihood by his skill in landscape drawing, and having resolved not to burthen his father, he gave lessons during the days and studied at Somerset House in the evenings. He thus often worked fourteen in the twenty-four hours, but never worked on Sundays; these days being, as he told us, “always sacred to me.” This unflinching labourer in art tried to deserve the gold medal of the Academy, but, under the circumstances attending such divided toils, it is not wonderful he failed to win that distinction.

            Several years passed in these occupations.  In 1829 Redgrave sent “A Portrait of a Gentleman,” and, in 1830, “Venus entreating Vulcan to forge Arms for Æneas,” to the gallery of the Society of British Artists, where his later works were seen on rare occasions.  It was not until 1831 he again contributed to the Academy Exhibition, when a subject— {36} which, although it is a fine one, has seldom been selected by artists—was illustrated by his “Commencement of the Massacre of the Innocents—Alarm of a Hebrew Family.”  In 1832 he sent “Rosalind and Celia” and “Cottages” to the British Institution. Three Welsh landscapes with figures, and “The Banishment of Posthumus,” were at the Academy in 1833.  On later years the painter was represented at the Institution by pathetic, genre, and poetical subjects, including, as was common in those days, pictures which had been already shown at the Academy and returned unsold to the artist. Among these instances were “Thoughts of the Absent,” “The Disenchantment of the Lady in ‘Comus’” (1835), “Bad News from the Sea,” “The Trial of Griselda’s Patience” (1838), and “The Strawberry Gatherer.” It was at this gallery, and in 1837, my subject’s first sight of fortune was obtained by means of a noteworthy picture, which, having been bought for engraving, was repurchased at a later date by Mr. Sheepshanks, and is now in the national collection at South Kensington. By means of the print by Mr. Mollison it is well known as “Gulliver exhibited to the Brobdingnag Farmer.”

            In 1837 it was fortunate for Redgrave the Directors of the Institution rejected his “Ellen Offord,” a picture of a subject borrowed from Crabbe’s “Tales of the Borough,” which, in the following year, occupied an excellent place on the line at the Academy. Meanwhile, and later, the latter exhibition contained, of Redgrave’s productions, two subjects from “A Pilgrim’s Progress” (1835), a landscape, and “The Faery Queene.” After this the artist’s themes were taken severally from the life of Quentin Matsys and “The Vicar of Wakefield,” and represented “The Reduced Gentleman’s Daughter,” “The Wonderful Cure by Paracelus” (1840); “The Castle Builder,” “Sir R. de Coverley’s Courtship,” and “The Vicar of Wakefield finding his Daughter” (1841); “Ophelia,” “Cinderella,” and “Bad News from the Sea” (1842); “The Fortune Hunter,” “Going to Service,” and “The Poor Teacher” (1843); “The Seamstress,” which illustrated “The Song of the Shirt,” and “The Wedding Morning” (1844); “The Governess” and “Miranda” (1845); “The Suppliant,” “The Brook,” “Preparing to throw off her Weeds,” a widow disrobing, “Sunday Morning—The Walk from Church,” with a motto from George Herbert (1846); “Fashion’s Slaves,” a scene in a milliner’s shop, “The Guardian Angel,” and “Love and Labour” (1847); “The Awakened Conscience,” “The Lost Path,” a woodland landscape, “Foreshadows of the Future,” which included the Virgin and Child, “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Handy Jamie,” “The Well-known Footstep,” “The Growth of Love,” “The Emigrant’s last Sight of Home,” “The Strayed Flock,” and (1860) “The Children in the Wood.” Since 1830 the artist has never failed to exhibit one or more pictures in the galleries of the Royal Academy. His “Glade where the Pixies Hide,” was at Burlington House last year. It must have been painted long before his sight, which is now almost entirely gone, began to fail. Designed to serve as moral lessons, Mr. Redgrave’s subjects were often distinguished by motives which ambitious pictures more emphatically illustrated. {37} In addition to these we saw at the Academy and elsewhere a number of landscapes, all marked by a fine sense of sylvan beauty and extreme care. It would serve no considerable purpose to enlarge this list of paintings by Redgrave, which embraces many scores of exemplary works, the general purport and motive of which has been declared by their author to be that of “helping them to right that suffer wrong.” These objects he has pursued earnestly and constantly, the very titles given here indicate the prevailing goodness and high moral tone of the subjects chosen by him. The popularity of such works as “The Poor Teacher,” “The Seamstress,” “The Governess,” and others, many of which have found wide-world acceptation, attests the welcome the paintings have deserved. It is a welcome which has been enlarged by means of engravings and transcripts of other kinds. Besides the above named illustration of “Gulliver,” the national collection contains not fewer than six of Redgrave’s pictures, including “Cinderella,” “The Governess,” and “Ophelia.” His “Country Cousins” was painted for Mr. Vernon, and engraved by Mr. H. C. Shenton.

            With Sir (then Mr.) Charles Barry and Mr. Thomas Webster (see the preceding biography of this artist), Redgrave was elected an A.R.A. in November, 1840. He is therefore, except Mr. S. Cousins (as before stated) and Mr. Webster, his companion in election, the oldest member of the Academy. Cousins, Redgrave, and Webster are the survivors of this body as it existed in 1841, and, all told, comprised seventy-one persons.

            In 1851, when he produced the “Flight into Egypt,” Redgrave became a Royal Academician. By 1840 his professional success had relieved him from the drudgery of private teaching of drawing, a labour which, however ungratifying it may have been, qualified the artist for the next field of exertion which then, or soon after, was opened to him. This mode of duty took effect when, in 1847, he was made Botanical Teacher and Lecturer, and, in 1851, Head Master of the Government School of Design, which was then conducted in the rooms Sir William Chambers built at Somerset House for the Royal Academy and which this body occupied till it removed to Trafalgar Square. On the reorganization of the School in 1852, Redgrave became Art Superintendent in the Department of Practical Art as then constituted; in this capacity he devised the whole, or nearly the whole, of that system of instruction in “practical art” which was directed by the Department. In this year he wrote an elaborate report on the general state of design as applied to manufactures in this country. In 1855 the British artistic arrangements of the Paris Universal Exhibition were directed by him, and he received the Cross of the Legion of Honour on that occasion. In conjunction with T. Creswick, R.A., he arranged the English pictures at the International Exhibition of 1862. At a later date he had a considerable part in forming the Historical Collection of Water-Colour Drawings at South Kensington. In 1857 he was appointed Inspector-General for Art in the Department of Science and Art then formed. In the execution of this office he continued to promote the interest of the Department, {38} and to assist in developing its schools, museum, and collections at South Kensington. In 1858 he succeeded Mr. T. Uwins, R.A., as Surveyor of the Royal Pictures, and, as such, began to collect materials for an exhaustive and as yet unpublished catalogue of those very numerous works. In 1880 Mr. Redgrave resigned the above named offices in connection with the Royal Household and the Art Department, and, two years later, he entered the grade of the Honorary Retired Royal Academicians.

            Mr. Redgrave, besides designing on wood, is a member of the Etching Club, and, as such, has contributed largely to its publications, including the “Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith.”  He has compiled and delivered many public addresses in connection with the business of the Art Department. Some of these essays have been printed and published. In conjunction with his brother, the late Mr. Samuel Redgrave, he wrote “A Century of Painters of the English School,” 1866, the most comprehensive and valuable work of the kind. Among his other writings is “An Essay on the Gift of the Sheepshanks Collection.” He was the intermediary selected by Mr. Sheepshanks for the transfer to the nation of this magnificent body of pictures. Distinguished by an honourable performance of so many important duties as these, Mr. Redgrave has with universal respect retired from active life.

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Frederick George Stephens (1828-1907), author and editor, RICHARD REDGRAVE, Hon. Retired R.A.

Cite As

Frederick George Stephens (1828-1907), author and editor, “RICHARD REDGRAVE, Hon. Retired R.A.,” Victorian Artists at Home, accessed May 26, 2024,

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