Richard Brydges Beechey

(17 May 1808 - 14 March 1895)

Anglo-Irish painter and Admiral in the Royal Navy. He was one of the 18 children of British painter Sir William Beechey (1753–1839) and Ann Phyllis Jessop.

At fourteen years of age Richard joined the Royal Navy, in time rising to the rank of admiral. Like his father and two of his brothers Richard was a celebrated painter, who illustrated various ports and naval scenes.

After the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, Beechey sailed in HMS Blossom, commanded by Frederick William Beechey, his brother, in the Pacific, and to the Bering Strait to attempt to support the Franklin Expedition. He was promoted lieutenant in 1828. Then he served in the Mediterranean, and in 1835 was seconded to a survey of Ireland. He was made commander in 1846, and then in 1851 was promoted captain.

In 1844, he married Frideswide Maria Moore Smyth of Portlick Castle, Westmeath. They had two daughters, Annie L. Beechey and Frideswide F. Beechey. In 1882 Frideswide was the first women to win a prize as a composer of chess problems and her book Chess Blossoms was published in 1883 followed by Chess Fruits in 1884, which she co-wrote with her husband Thomas B. Rowland. He was also a noted chess player and columnist.

In 1888, some three years after the death of his wife, Richard married Frances, daughter of the Rev. Annesley Stewart of Trinity College, Dublin.

Other brothers included the portraitist Henry William Beechey and the painter George Duncan Beechey.

Like his contemporaries George Mounsey Atkinson and Edwin Hayes RHA (1820-1904), and the later William Coulter, Richard Brydges Beechey was a marine painter of distinction, except he also became an Admiral of the British Navy and specialized in naval vessels. As well as being a fine naval artist, Richard Brydges Beechey also completed a number of oil paintings and drawings on marine subjects.

Born on 17 May 1808, he was the son of two artists. His father was Sir William Beechey RA (1753-1839), an eminent painter and Royal Academician, who - in addition to being a fine portraitist - was also an accomplished marine artist whose works included illustrations of ports and a variety of naval scenes.

His mother, Lady Beechey, who also showed at the Royal Academy, was a talented miniaturist.

Whether he received any formal training in painting or drawing is unknown. In any event, like his brother he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 14 and spent several years at sea before returning and marrying Frideswide Maria Moore, the eldest daughter of Robert Smyth of Portlick Castle, County Westmeath, Ireland.

This was followed by further service under the colours in the West Indies and the Eastern Pacific Ocean where Beechey served under the command of his brother. He must have developed and maintained his interest in art while at sea, because in 1832, when only 24, he exhibited a number of fine marine paintings at the Royal Academy (as an honorary exhibitor), after which he spent time in Ireland as a waterway surveyor. Whilst surveying the River Shannon in the 1840s, he executed a number of detailed, topographical drawings as well as several excellent watercolours.

(Source: © Watercolours of Ireland, by Crookshank and Glin, 1994).

For the next 25 years Beechey devoted himself to both his naval career and his painting, eventually attaining the rank of admiral. Although no sketchbooks have been found, it seems likely that he sketched throughout his travels, as his later oil paintings appear to be retrospective views based on earlier drawings. In later life (1858-77) he showed regularly at the Royal Academy in London, where he also exhibited at the British Institution and the Society of British Artists. In addition, for many years, he exhibited marine scenes and paintings of ships at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in Dublin. In 1868 he was made an honorary member.

Most of his compositions portrayed ships in stormy conditions, a genre which, according to one art critic, prevented him from achieving the popularity commensurate with his painterly skills.

Copyright Ownership © Irish Artists, Visual Arts, Cork

External Link On-line Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History

View painter's art: Richard Brydges Beechey (1808-1895) [new window view]