Richard Beavis, R.W.S.
(Baptised 24 October 1824 - 13 November 1896)
Devonshire possesses an enviable notoriety among all English "shires" on account of the number of excellent artists to whom it has given birth; to name them all from the days of Sir Joshua Reynolds to our own would present a long catalogue; this, however, is not our purpose: the fact is alluded to only to remark that the name of Richard Beavis is entitled to be placed on the list, for he was born in 1824, [Baptised 24 October 1824 at Littleham (Exmouth), Devon], though the early years of his life were passed at Sidmouth; and it is just possible that this residence in a picturesque seaside town, though it has little or no pretensions now to be called a seaport, whatever it was in years gone by, may have had some influence on the direction which Mr. Beavis' s art subsequently took.
The childhood of most painters offers very nearly the same features -- the struggles of the mind to develope itself everywhere and at all times, in season and out of season. Born, as it were, with a pencil in hand, no opportunity is lost of employing it, and too often to the prejudice of all domestic proprieties: and so it was that before little Beavis was eight years old the walls of his bedroom were covered, so far as his childish hands could reach, with a species of hieroglyphics assuming to represent ships and boats, horses and carts, and everything else which suggested itself to the boy's imagination. There were in Sidmouth at that time two booksellers' shops, in the windows of which some engravings were displayed; these were, of course, very attractive to the embryo artist, who, as we have heard him say, would stand long at the window studying one of the prints, till the subject was tolerably well impressed on his mind, when he hurried home and tried to draw it from memory, repeating his visits till the copy was rendered as complete as the circumstances would allow.
But parental authority opposed itself to all such aspirations after Art-life: the boy's father had other views for him, and, moreover, held to the opinion that it was a very doubtful mode of earning a livelihood, and related a story, by way of confirmation, that he "once knew a portrait painter who never had a shilling in his pocket or a shoe to his foot." No wonder that with such wide experience of artistic life the elder Beavis should seek to "nip in the bud" any desire the son had to become a painter. Nevertheless the latter could never relinquish the hope of some day being able to accomplish his wishes; and so, while following other occupations through the day, he would rise in the morning with the sun, and work away with his pencil in the best way he could.
Thus matters went on till 1846, when some gentlemen of the town, who had shown him much kindness and encouraged his untaught efforts, suggested to him the advisability of entering as a student in the then School of Design at Somerset House, and they took such steps as were necessary to accomplish the plan. The result was, that in the summer of that year Mr. Beavis arrived in London, with a few pounds and several letters of introduction in his pocket, and with many hearty good wishes of his Sidmouth friends for his success. If any of those who lent a hand to help on the young artist at the outset of his career now live to see the result, they can assuredly have no cause to regret what they did, but quite the reverse.
The day following his arrival in London Mr. Beavis was duly installed as a student at Somerset House. His first short term, of six weeks only, proved most encouraging, for at the end of it a premium was awarded to him for outline drawing, which he had studied under the late Mr. Alfred Stevens, then one of the masters, and a most kind and efficient one, as his pupil readily acknowledges. All the Art-education Mr. Beavis received, beyond what he taught himself, was acquired at that institution: he speaks of the teaching there as being in every way excellent and most conducive to its required purpose.
He soon, however, began to find that it was quite necessary he should get some employment to enable him to maintain himself: the little supply of money he brought to town was gradually melting away, even with the most rigid economy, and he was brought face to face with the difficulties of his position; so he managed to turn what little of Art he yet knew to some profitable account, by painting portraits, putting skies and figures into architectural drawings, and occasionally executing some decorative Art-work: thus he contrived to keep his head fairly above water till the spring of 1850, when Messrs. Trollope, the well-known upholsterers and decorators, of Parliament Street, applied at Somerset House for a student who could assist in making drawings and designs adapted to their business. The matter was proposed to Mr. Beavis by one of the masters, who thought he would be able to meet the requirements of the firm, to whom accordingly he went, and made a drawing or two by way of trial, which being approved, he was at once engaged by Messrs. Trollope as artist to their establishment. With them he remained till 1863, and with what favourable results may be inferred from the fact that the firm competed successfully in three International Exhibitions with works executed from his designs: in the London Exhibition of 1851, in that of Paris in 1855, and again in the London Exhibition of 1862: in the last two Messrs. Trollope carried off first-class prizes, and in 1862 with especial marks of distinction. It may here be mentioned that the first works Mr. Beavis exhibited at the Royal Academy were, in 1855, a design for a boudoir ceiling at Harewood House, Yorkshire; in 1858, a design for a painted ceiling of a drawing-room in the same mansion; and in 1860, a design for decorating a drawing-room ceiling near Sittingbourne, Kent: works which his employers had then on hand.
In the early years of his connection with the firm he continued to attend the Somerset House schools in the evening, principally giving attention to those branches of Art most applicable to decorative purposes : in the summer-time he would rise early, get out into the parks or about Kensington to sketch, or perhaps work in his own painting-room at home, till it was time to go to his other studio in Parliament Street. During the latter period of his engagement with the Messrs. Trollope he arranged with them only for a portion of his time; the remainder he applied to his own improvement in painting, both in oils and water colours, for he had always proposed to himself the profession of a painter as the ultimate result of his varied labours: to this his practice as an ornamental designer was merely a stepping-stone. At the British Institution appeared a few small pictures by Mr. Beavis, painted when thus working at half-time, so to speak. In 1862 he sent two pictures, also small, to the Royal Academy, and both were hung; one was 'A Mountain Rill', the other 'Fishermen picking up Wreck at Sea', an upright canvas, now in the possession of Mr. Peter Stuart, Seaforth, near Liverpool. Encouraged by the success of these works, he ventured to send in the following year a somewhat larger picture, called only 'In North Wales;' it represented a mountain-stream in that part of the Principality, and was bought on the private view day by the late Sir David Solomons.
Mr. Beavis now felt himself sufficiently strong to pursue his road without such extraneous help as had hitherto aided his onward progress. His pictures were not only looked at, but inquired for: one of the two works he exhibited at the Academy in 1864, 'The Escape,' was engraved in the Illustrated London News; the other, 'Autum -- Loading Fern,' we remember as a picture which interested us much. In the year immediately following appeared the first of that class of works which have done so much to bring this artist into prominence; compositions that can scarcely be classed with coast scenes in the ordinary acceptation of the term, though they are seaside views; but their interest lies less in the expanse of ocean with shipping, etc, than in the figures and animals which enliven the shore and are made the principal features of the picture. The work in question was entitled, 'A Military Train crossing the Sands to Elizabeth Castle, Jersey;' it was painted for Mr. R. P. Harding, and is now in the collection of that gentleman. In 1866 he sent to the Royal Academy 'Drawing Timber in Picardy,' which attracted the attention of a prizeholder in the London Art Union society, who purchased it at the price of £250: an engraving of it appeared in the Illustrated London Newsabout that time.
In 1867 and 1868 Mr. Beavis was living near Boulogne, it may be presumed for the purpose chiefly of sketching the coast scenery of that portion as well as of other parts of the country; and either in those years, or somewhat later, he travelled into Holland with the same object. One of the earliest fruits of this foreign sojourn was exhibited at the Academy in the former of the years just mentioned; its title was 'Loading Sand -- Pas de Calais -- Threatening Weather.' In the latter year appeared a Dutch scene, 'High Tide -- Mouth of the Maas,' painted for Mr. R. P. Harding. In 1869, he exhibited nothing, but in the following year he contributed 'Hauling up a Fishing-boat -- Coast of Holland,' in which the leading feature is a team of horses, skilfully drawn, to show the muscular strain and action of the animals in moving a heavy load. The picture is in the collection of a gentleman of Sheffield. In 1871, Mr. Beavis sent one work to the Academy, 'Autumn Ploughing -- Showery Weather;' a picture very favourably alluded to at the time in our columns. Of two paintings exhibited in 1872, one bore the same title, 'Collecting Wreck on the French Coast -- Ambleteuse,' but the design is totally different. Here the treatment is very similar to other compositions of the same kind from the pencil of the artist: a large expanse of stormy sky, broken at intervals by clouds lighted up by the sun; the lights repeated on certain portions of the landscape, etc. Such management of materials is generally very effective, and is certainly so in the work we have engraved, which was never exhibited. The companion picture of the year, 'The Sand Cart, Brittany -- Gathering Storm,' shows like treatment. His only contribution to the Academy in 1873 was an exceedingly well-painted picture, 'The Shore at Scheveningen -- Waiting for the Boats' bought at the private view by Mr. T. Taylor, Hyde Park Gardens. Holland also gave to the artist subjects for two out of the three pictures he sent to the Academy in 1874; the titles of the two were, 'A Ferry-boat in Old Holland' and 'Bringing up Nets at Scheveningen; ' the latter, and also the third work, 'Charcoal Burners,' bought by Messrs. Agnew, have, as principals, horses and figures; in the Scheveningen subject the animals are in vigorous action, drawing up a load of heavy nets through the deep sands on the Dutch coast.
A large number of Mr. Beavis's pictures have never been exhibited, but have gone direct from his studio into the hands of their purchasers; such is the case with one we have engraved, 'Bullock-Carts returning from Cette,' painted from one of many sketches made by the artist when on a tour, in the autumn of 1872, through the centre of France, proceeding by the way of the valley of the Rhone to Avignon and Marseilles, and thence along the French shores of the Mediterranean. This is a very attractive composition; the bullocks are well drawn, cleverly foreshortened, and evidently quite under the control of the young peasant-girl, who, rather gracefully and lightly, is throwing her long driving-whip -- certainly very unlike an English carter's whip -- over the heads of the leaders of the bullock-team, just to remind them that they must not go to sleep on the road, as they seem half inclined to do.
In the autumn of 1874 Mr. Beavis's health failed, and he was advised to try a thorough change of air and scene. He had often felt a strong desire to visit the East, and so he resolved to carry out his wishes. Accordingly, in the early part of the following year (1875) he set out for Egypt, travelling by easy stages, via Venice and Brindisi, to Alexandria, and thence to Cairo. After staying a few days in the latter city to rest and examine the place, as well as to complete the arrangements for a caravan journey across the Desert to Mount Sinai, he started on the expedition, lingering on the way to sketch, either in oils or water-colours -- for he works equally well in both -- such objects and places of interest or beauty as most vividly arrested his attention and appealed most strongly to his artistic feelings. Among the places visited by Mr. Beavis during his trip to the East, which occupied about six months, were Jaffa, where he remained several weeks, Jerusalem, with most of the villages and historic places in its vicinity, Jericho, the Jordan, and the Dead Sea; but the landscape portions of the country he acknowledges to have had less charm for him than the social life of the people, their costumes, animals, and agricultural operations. On His return home -- his health, we are pleased to know, quite reestablished -- he lost no time in making use of what he had seen and noted down of Arab and Syrian life, as was evidenced in the two pictures he sent to the Royal Academy's exhibition of last year. It represents a 'Bedaween (sic) Caravan on the Road to Mount Sinai;' the caravan is descending the high ground at Wady Ghurundel. The other picture was called 'Ploughing in Lower Egypt.' The artist shows himself quite as much at home on Eastern ground as on the shores of France and Holland.
We cannot call Mr. Beavis a disciple of any particular school, nor a follower of any special artist: he is a close and diligent student of Nature alone, and works out his subjects -- and they are varied -- with taste, judgment, and skilful execution.
Dictionary of Painters & Engravers, Biographical & Critical, (Michael Bryan).
A History of Sidmouth, (Peter Orlando Hutchinson) MSS, West Country Studies Library.
Dictionary of British Watercolour Artists up to 1920.
Dictionary of Victorian Painters, (Wood)
Dictionary of Artists who have exhibited works in the principal London exhibitions 1760-1893.
International Auction Records (Mayer - Hislop)
The Royal Academy Exhibitors
Works exhibited at the Royal Society of British artists 1824 - 1893
The Classified Directory of Artists' signatures, symbols & monograms.
View painter's art: Richard Beavis (1824-1896)