Samuel Bough

(8 January 1822 - 19 November 1878)



Sam Bough was born of humble parents in Atkinson's Court, Abbey Street, Carlisle. The house, a very unpretending abode, stood immediately behind the west side of the street, in a small courtyard, entrance to which was gained by an arched gateway. The house has since been pulled down and new buildings erected, but a tablet in the wall indicates the birthplace of the artist.

James Bough, the father of the artist, was a native of Hereford. When he left the city of Bath for Carlisle, with Sir Joseph Gilpin, the physician, he was in a delicate state of health. He remained in the capacity of butler to Sir Joseph until his marriage with Lucy Walker, one of his fellow servants, on the nineteenth day of January, 1818. They had five children, of whom Samuel was the third.



The following extracts are copied from the Register of St. Mary's parish church (which at that time formed part of the Nave of Carlisle Cathedral):
"Marriage. -- James Bough, of the Extraparochial District called the Abbey, in the City of Carlisle, Batchelor, and Lucy Walker of the same place, Spinster, were married in this church by Banns, this Nineteenth Day of January, in the year one thousand eight hundred and eighteen." By me, S. R. Hartley, Minister.

''Baptism. 1822, Feby. 10th. Samuel, son of James and Lucy Bough, Abbey Street, Cord Winder, "Morgan Morgan, Assistant Curate."

Being extremely anxious that his son should become an artist -- unlike most fathers in this respect -- James Bough encouraged him to his utmost, and sent him to study drawing in a humble academy taught by Dobson, at the English Damside. The careless manner and apparent indifference to learning shown by the lad, however, were the subject of more than one consultation, and caused much anxiety to the parent. "John will never make a painter of thee, Sam," exclaimed he, despondingly. "Thou's far too careless, and pays no attention to what he says."

In the hope of finding something more suited to the lad's likings, he was placed in London, under the charge of Thomas Allom, to learn the art of landscape engraving upon steel and copper. He did not, however, remain long in this capacity.

The spirit of Art was aroused in Bough at an early age. He practised sketching wisely and well, as the student of Nature, living for days and weeks in the fields and woods. Amid the fitful gleams of sunlight glinting through the trees in Wetheral woods, he had many golden opportunities of studying, "The charm of forest trees decayed. And pastoral melancholy." Bough, in his salad days, ran after few false gods. A matter of fact way of looking at things had a good deal to do with keeping him from falling into the worship of that which was merely artificial or false in sentiment. He had no period of glaring or unnatural colouring. From the first his pictures were quiet and subdued in tone. At the age of sixteen or seventeen he painted crudely, and was not able to work out fully the ideas which were rooting themselves in his mind. But soon after this date the decision and firmness of touch attained by his hand are astonishing for one who had to grope his way through innumerable difficulties, unaided and alone.

About his twentieth year, young Bough followed the pursuit of drawing with assiduity. While sitting in his father's house in the evenings, he drew nineteen designs illustrative of Scott's Lay of the last Minstrel, which are still in existence.

Bough made his first appearance on the walls of a public-exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy of 1844. The subject chosen -- "Askham Mill, Westmorland" -- was one which became a favourite with him, and was often repeated, or painted from a different standpoint. The price is set down in the catalogue of the Academy at £20. As the figure was comparatively large for an unknown artist to ask, it was probably returned to Carlisle unsold.

Bough left Carlisle to take his chance as assistant scene painter at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, on the last Saturday of July, 1845. Having lost his father, he was in consequence thrown upon his own resources, and left to face the world unaided and alone. His father's death while he was yet young, was, in one sense, a fortunate thing for him. Having no one upon whom to rely, he began to show that there was no deficiency of the right sort of metal about him, and his mind was soon aroused from a somewhat dormant state to one of considerable activity and thought.

Bough first learned how to adapt his previous knowledge of art to scene painting from William Channing of the Theatre Royal, Manchester. Nor could he have had a better master to look up to, for a kinder and more simple minded man never lived. When old age and straitened circumstances pressed rudely upon him, Bough did not forget his old teacher, nor the lessons and hints given to him so cheerfully and ungrudgingly. Finding his way to Scotland, and dying in Leith, poor Bill Channing was supported chiefly by Bough for some time before he shuffled off this mortal coil. The friendship which existed between the two men was highly creditable to both. At the sale of Bough's effects in 1879, a volume of "Military and other Costumes from the Tenth Century," drawn and coloured by Channing, was sold for five guineas.

In the centre of Bough's studio in Hill Street stood a dingy-looking" stove on the top of which a row of "cutty" pipes was generally to be seen, set out to dry or bake for future use. Sketches and scraps of sketches were littered everywhere, and not infrequently dust and confusion reigned supreme. Altogether, the untidiness of the place conveyed to the mind the impression that the owner of the room was anything but a man of orderliness and discipline.

The artist's pencil was rarely out of his hand. If he chanced to see two dogs fighting in the street; or a man struggling along the road under the influence of drink; or a picturesque fish-wife toiling with her heavy creel; or a grimy-faced collier with his back to the wall smoking his pipe -- down they went into his sketch-book for future use. His mode of painting was extremely rapid; and it was very interesting to an intelligent frequenter of his studio to see a work grow under his hand, from the hastily and often indefinitely sketched outline -- through a stage of floating colours and confusion -- to the last finishing touch of the brush.

As Bough moved about different parts of the country on sketching excursions, he was fond of cultivating acquaintances, and it has fallen to the lot of few men to be at once so widely and familiarly known. Brimful of animation, "chaff" and fun, all sorts and conditions of people seemed to find their way to his studio. Actors, literary men, dignitaries of the church, prize-fighters, soldiers and sailors, tinkers and tailors -- a motley crew, indeed!

Throughout Bough's career, but more particularly towards the latter part, he struck a distinct vein, which may not inaptly be termed Bewickian. To these subjects he imparted all the intensity of feeling, pathos, humour, and grotesqueness, which distinguish the choicest vignettes of Thomas Bewick. "The Horse Fair," "Coach leaving Knowsley," "Kirkwall Fair," "Billingsgate," "Portobello Sands," "Geese," and "Shelter" (a sketch), are a few which occur to memory. No man had a keener eye for the ludicrous in Nature; and had he been spared longer, the probability is that we should have had many more works of a kindred character from his brush. Whatever his hand found to do in connection with his art, he did with all his might. His genius ripened and expanded after many laborious years.

For about twelve months before his death, Bough's health was very indifferent; and as habitual smoking appeared to make his hand unsteady when at work, much restraint had to be exercised in the use of the weed. A slight paralytic stroke was the forerunner of a complication of attacks of various disorders, and by degrees a feeling crept over him that his time on earth could not be long. Anxious to get away to the South of England or the Continent, for a change of air or rest, he made arrangements with Mr. Chapman, auctioneer, for the sale of as many of his works as could be got ready within a given time. In order to effect this object. Bough worked with almost superhuman effort through the months of August, September, and October.

This unceasing application continued until within a fortnight of his death, and there is no doubt but that it helped to increase the ravages of the malady under which he laboured. A noticeable slowness of speech came upon him. When alone in his studio, his spirits sometimes drooped considerably, and he wept bitterly. The end came at last, and Bough died quietly and without a struggle, on the 19th November, 1878, aged fifty-six years.

The artist was buried in the Dean cemetery, not far from the grave of John Wilson, the "Christopher North" of Blackhood's Magazine. His funeral was very numerously attended. Sixteen mourning coaches, six of which were occupied by Members and Associates of the Royal Scottish Academy, and many private carriages, including that of the Lord Provost, were in attendance. In Lothian Road the procession was joined by a number of artists from Glasgow, among whom were representatives from the Scottish Water-Colour Society, of which Bough was vice-president. At the grave side Dean Montgomery read the Burial Service of the Church of England. Although rain fell heavily during the time the funeral procession passed through the streets, crowds of people assembled at different points of the route. A monument was erected to Bough's memory in the Dean cemetery by a number of his friends and admirers, upon which is carved a medallion portrait -- an excellent likeness -- by William Brodie, R.S.A.


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In a statuette, modelled by Mr. W. G. Stevenson, Bough stands with legs apart, holds his pipe in one hand, and thrusts the other hand carelessly into his pocket. From the attitude and action of the figure, one would suppose him to be in the act of cracking a joke or telling a laughable story.

Nothing more life-like or real (when spectacles are placed on his nose) has been produced than this little terra-cotta figure of the rough-and-ready artist.

His miscellaneous effects were sold at Dowell's rooms, Edinburgh, in April, 1879. The sale extended over six days -- commencing on Tuesday, the 15th, and ending on the Monday following. By far the most important items were the finished water colour drawings from Bough's own easel, which occupied the fifth day's sale. Works left unsigned by him were stamped with the artist's name, the auctioneer's monogram, and the date of the sale -- "19th April, 1879." The auction rooms were crowded to excess.

Partial content taken from: Sam Bough, R. S. A.; some account of his life and works, by the Late Sidney Gilpin, 1905.


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