Sir William Blake RICHMOND
(London 1842 - London 1924)
Study of Two Hands
379 x 200 mm. (14 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
A very similar hand, although in reverse, appears in another painting by the artist that was also exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1888; a portrait of Mrs. J. A. Fuller-Maitland, now in the City Museum in Lancaster. Similar hands are also found elsewhere in Richmond’s work, such as a painting of Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon of 1876, in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
One of the finest portrait painters of the Aesthetic movement, Richmond received numerous significant commissions for portraits, notably of William Gladstone and his niece Lady Frederick Cavendish and nephew Lord Lyttelton, Charles Darwin, the Duke of Argyll and the Princess of Wales, among others. He also produced several more informal portraits of such friends as William Holman Hunt, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Morris and Robert Browning. Demand for his portraits continued throughout his career, and his success as a fashionable portrait painter earned him considerable renown. (Despite these accomplishments, the artist seems to have preferred painting large mythological subject pictures or small landscape oil sketches. As he later wrote in his unpublished memoirs, ‘Portrait painting practised exclusively even for a brief period has always been irksome to me; it occupies only half one’s energies and emotions. To attain a ‘good likeness’ has always been difficult for me.’) Richmond exhibited at both the Royal Academy and the newly-established Grosvenor Gallery, and in 1879 was appointed Slade Professor of Art at Oxford, where he taught until 1883. In 1888 he was elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy, becoming a full Academician in 1893.
Richmond was also active both as a sculptor and designer of stained-glass windows, while throughout most of the 1890s he was engaged on the decoration of the apse and choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London with mosaics; arguably the most significant mosaic commission ever received in England. Reflecting the artist’s close study of Byzantine mosiacs in Rome, Florence, Ravenna and Palermo, the mosaic decoration of St. Paul’s (for which Richmond also designed the stained-glass windows, lost or destroyed in the Second World War) was begun in 1891 and largely completed by 1896, although the last elements were not finished until 1904. Richmond was knighted in 1897, and three years later a major retrospective exhibition of his paintings, drawings and sculptures, numbering almost five hundred works, was held at the New Gallery in London.
William E. Fischelis, Jr., Philadelphia