Joshua   Cristall

(1767 - 18 October 1847)

Cristall was born at Camborne in Cornwall. His mother shared with and inspired in her son a taste for classic art. His father was Scottish and bitterly opposed to his son's artistic tastes, but his mother secretly aided him in his struggles to study art. He was first apprenticed to a china dealer at Rotherhithe, but after finding that business too irksome, he left for the Staffordshire Potteries, where he found employment as a china painter. Finding that job too monotonous, he went to London, and commenced a life of great privations and hard efforts to study the fine arts. During this period of his life, he reportedly seriously injured his health by trying to live for a year on just potatoes and water. Aided in secret by his mother, he persevered in his endeavours, and finally gained admission to the school of the Royal Academy, where he made rapid progress. He became personally known to Dr. Monro and visited his house, where he met the rising water-colour artists of the day.

In 1805, he became a founding member of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours and made the first public exhibition of his works; he continued to do so for many years. He later became president of the Society and was always a warm and active supporter of the Society.

In 1822, with his health in decline, Cristall went to Goodrich on the Wye, where he had already bought a house, and where he spent many happy years until the loss of his wife, who died in 1840, drove him again to London, where he died in 1847. His body was carried to Goodrich, and buried by the side of his wife, at his own earnest request.

Cristall's usual subjects in his early years were classical figures with landscapes, such as his 'Lycidas', 'Judgment of Paris', 'Hylas and the Nymphs', and 'Diana' and 'Endymion', but he afterwards produced genre subjects and rustic groups. Around 1813, he tried portrait painting, generally small full-lengths with landscape backgrounds, in which he used no body-colour. As a watercolour painter, Cristall will always hold an honourable position from the freedom and simplicity of his style and manner of execution. Five of his drawings (including 'The Young Fisher-Boy' and 'The Fish Market on Hastings Beach') are in the South Kensington Museum. Cristall was one of the early members of the Sketching Society; he also furnished some of the classical figures in Barret's landscapes, as well as some of the groups in George Fennell Robson's Scotch Scenery.

Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers by Michael Bryan, edited by Robert Edmund Graves and Sir Walter Armstrong, 1886–1889; A History of the 'Old Watercolour Society' by J L Roget, London (1891).

CRISTALL, JOSHUA (1767-1847)

Painter, both in oil and water colours, was born at Camborne, Cornwall, in 1767. His father, Joseph Alexander Cristall, an Arbroath man, is believed to have been the captain and owner of a trading vessel, and also a ship-breaker, having yards at Rotherhithe, Penzance, and Fowey. His mother, Ann Batten, born in 1745, was daughter of a Mr. John Batten of Penzance, and a woman of talent and education. His eldest sister, Ann Batten Cristall, was the authoress of a volume of Poetical Sketches, published in 1795. Elizabeth, a younger sister, engraved; and both sisters were most of their lives engaged in tuition. Dr. Monro was one of his early friends. He was always very fond of art and of classical music. He began life with a china dealer at Rotherhithe, and then became a china-painter in the potteries district under Turner of Burslem, living in great hardship.

He became a student at the Royal Academy, and was in 1805, a foundation member of the Water-colour Society, of which body, on its reconstitution in 1821, he was also the first president; an office which he continued to hold until 1832, when Copley Fielding became his successor. His portrait in oils, a vigorous sketch painted by himself, adorns the staircase of the society's gallery.

Cristall was associated in his art career with Gilpin Hills, Pyne, Nattes, Nicholson, Pocock, Wells, Shelley, Barrett, Howell, Hassell, the Varleys, David Cox, Finch, and others, in starting the water-colour exhibition at Tresham's rooms, Lower Brook Street, in the spring of 1805. The exhibition was in 1813, transferred to the great room in Spring Gardens, and afterwards to the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. Turner, William Hunt, and Dewint, among others, about this time became members of the society.

Some of Cristall's favourite sketching-grounds were in North Wales and in Cumberland. Many of his drawings in the former district are dated 1803, 1820, and 1831, and he was at work in Cumberland in 1805; and Sir John St. Aubyn, M.P., has some interesting examples of Cristall's drawings of Cornish cliff-scenery. Queen Victoria occasionally named the subject to be delineated by the Sketching Society, of which Cristall was also a founder and a prominent member; and she selected his ‘Daughters of Mineus’ as a specimen of the artist's powers. Writing to Joseph Severn in 1829, T. Uwins, R.A. (Memoirs of Thomas Uwins, 1858), observes: ‘Our old friend Cristall used to say, “the art was not so difficult as it was difficult to get at the art! the thousand annoyances and embarrassments that surrounded him perpetually, and kept him from sitting down fairly to his easel, sometimes overwhelmed him quite.”’ He was nevertheless an indefatigable worker, and was especially laborious in his delineations of nature with the black-lead pencil. He also painted some of the figures for Barrett and Robson in their landscapes.

In 1812, he married an accomplished French widow (a Mrs. Cousins), a lady of some fortune. He continued to devote most of his time to painting, and latterly, after 1821, was almost always sketching out of doors in his old districts as well as in the beautiful scenery of the Wye. He lived, while in London, in Kentish Town, Thavies Inn, Chelsea, Lambeth, Paddington, and Hampstead Road, and for seventeen years at Grantham Court, Goodrich, Herefordshire, returning to London after his wife's death. He died without issue at Douro Cottages, near Circus Road, St. John's Wood, London, on 18 Oct. 1847, and was buried by the side of his wife at Goodrich, where there is a monument to his memory. The whole of his works remaining unsold at his death were dispersed at a three days' sale at Christie & Manson's, commencing on 11 April 1848. Specimens of his art may be seen at the South Kensington Museum; but perhaps his finest work was the wreck scene, exhibited at the Exhibition of Old Masters in Burlington House a few years ago. They fully establish Cristall's claim to be regarded as one of the founders of the English school of water colours. Many of his pictures have been engraved, including a few of his classical compositions for the use of his pupils. Some of the latter he published at 2 Lisson Street, New (now Marylebone) Road, in 1816.

[Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 13, by Walter Hawken Tregellas; Recollections of F. O. Finch; Literary Journal, 1818; Boase and Courtney's Collectanæ Cornubiensia, Memoirs of Thos. Uwins, R.A., (Bibliotheca cornubiensis: A catalogue of the writings, both manuscript and printed, of Cornishmen, and of works relating to the county of Cornwall, with biographical memoranda and copious literary references, 3 vols., London, 1874-1882. Also known as (Collectanea Cornubiensia); Redgrave's Dictionary of Artists of the English School; Letters from the President and Secretary of the Royal Water-colour Society.]

The professors of the new art of water-colour painting were mostly landscape painters, but the society was fortunate in numbering among its founders Joshua Cristall, a figure and a landscape painter, whose works served to give diversity and contrast to their exhibitions. He was the son of Alexander Cristall, who came from the neighbourhood of Dundee, and was master of a small vessel trading to the ports of the Mediterranean, more especially to Smyrna and Constantinople. His trading relations introduced him to Mr. John Batten, a merchant of Penzance, whose daughter he married, and their son Joshua was born at Cambourne in Cornwall, in 1767.

Mrs. Cristall was well educated, a lady of enthusiastic temperament, full of love for poetry, and for the mythic love of classic antiquity. She devoted herself to the education of her son, and from her he early imbibed that classical taste which throughout life characterized his works. A friend of his father's offered to adopt young Cristall, and to take him into his business, promising to leave the boy all his wealth. But Cristall hated trade, and had early resolved to be an artist. This his father opposed, and denied him the use of paper and pencils in order to overcome his propensity for drawing and painting. But Joshua found means to pursue his favourite studies; with his scanty pocketmoney he purchased Spanish liquorice, dissolved it in water, and with this colour covered the white-washed walls of his bed-room with designs and drawings, some of which are said to have been very bold and spirited, and to have indicated his future excellence. The elder Cristall removed to Rotherhithe, and engaged in business as a sail and mast-maker, in which he was assisted and JOSHUA CRISTALL finally succeeded by a younger brother of the painter. Joshua meanwhile was apprenticed by his father to a china dealer in the Minories, but the business was so hateful to him, that he quitted his apprenticeship before his term was completed. This led also to his being obliged to leave his home and to enter upon a life of great hardship. A friend recommended him to Wedgewood for employment as a china painter, and for a time he worked in the potteries. But the mechanical repetition and reproduction required at that time by the manufacturer, was irksome to Cristall, and afforded no scope for his art or his imagination; he returned to London, living as he well could with secret assistance from his devoted mother. During this time it is related that he seriously injured his health by endeavouring to live solely on potatoes and water, an attempt he persevered in for nearly a year. One of his sisters determined to live with him and share his difficulties. She got work from an engraver, and by various means they endeavoured to live while he studied his art. He obtained his admittance as a student of the Royal Academy, and not only rapidly improved in his profession, but learned from his brother students many little ways of adding to his stinted income.

In the schools of the Royal Academy he must have diligently studied the antique, and entered fully into its spirit. It entirely delivered him from that tendency to littleness and prettiness which is almost inherent in water-colour art, and formed in him the large, square, and simple style which he retained through life, and which gave grandeur even to common forms and rustic figures. At this period he was one of those who frequented the house of Dr. Monro -- the practising academy in which so many of our best water-colour artists were formed. There, no doubt, he followed the manner of the place, copying prints, sketches, and the drawings of his predecessors; and with his companions going forth to the then rural banks of the Thames, above and below the great city, to make studies from Nature of skies, effects, and landscape details. A picture painted by him, "A Shipwreck at Hastings," gained him the notice of the Duke of Argyll, who purchased the work, and afterwards permitted it to be engraved for the benefit of the young artist. For that purpose it was placed in the hands of an engraver, who unfortunately became insolvent, and the picture was seized with his other effects. The poor painter had to pay a large sum to redeem his own property, and the additional mortification to offend his patron, through the delay in obtaining possession of it. But Cristall's diligence and love of his art overcame all obstacles to his progress, and gradually won for him reputation and success. Born in 1767, he had been some years in practice when the growing importance of the art led to a desire among those who practised it to form a separate exhibition of their own works. Together with Glover he was one of the earliest promoters of this scheme, and was one of the six painters who held their first meeting at Shelley's house in George Street, and joined the Water Colour Society at its formation. Though he had studied the figure, and loved figure subjects, he also painted landscapes, marines, and occasionally portraits. To the first exhibition in Brook Street he sent seven pictures: "Lycidas," "The Rival Goddesses," "The Judgment of Paris," together with some Welsh landscapes, and his annual contributions continued of the same mixed character.

His works were not numerous: between 1805 and 1821 he exhibited 223 pictures, or on an average about thirteen per annum. In 1821, we find him invested with the office of president; this he held until 1831, when he was succeeded by Copley Fielding. Whilst residing at Maida Hill, the painter, about the year 1812, became acquainted with Miss Cozens. She had been left an orphan, and brought up by her aunt, a lady who kept a large school at the Old Manor House, Paddington Green, then a quaint and rural suburb. The aunt sent her niece to France, in exchange for the daughter of a French nobleman, by whose family Miss Cozens was much beloved and treated as a second daughter. At the breaking out of the French Revolution, the chateau where they resided was attacked by a revolutionary mob, and the family made prisoners, the ladies being sent to Paris, and Miss Cozens with them. After a time she had the good fortune to escape as an American, and, passing through Germany, joined her aunt in England, and eventually succeeded her in the school. This lady Cristall married in 1813; her cultivated mind and lively French manners, together with his talents, made their society much sought after, and their house the resort of the musicians, authors, and artists of the day.

Mrs. Cristall, who thought her husband's works not sufficiently finished, urged upon him greater completion, and also tried to induce him to recommence portraits. Her influence prevailed for a time, but he afterwards returned to his own special subjects and broad manner of treating them. About the year 1821, Cristall's health failing, his wife proposed a country residence; and by the advice of their friend, Mr. Meyrick of Goodrich Castle, they bought a cottage in that lovely neighbourhood, to which they removed some time in 1822. There the painter passed many happy years, closed at last by the lingering illness of his wife, whose death made Goodrich distasteful to him. He was childless, and in 1840, again returned to London, took up his abode in Robert Street, Hampstead Road, and sought to renew his intimacy with his brother artists and old associates. He had continued the practice of his art, and, with the exception of the year 1832, his annual contributions to the water-colour exhibition. On his return to London he found the art-world astir, and artists of all ages entering vigorously into the competition proposed by the Government for the decoration of the Houses of Parliament. Notwithstanding his advanced age, Cristall prepared to join in the struggle for honours and rewards; but leaving a party at the house of Mr. Rogers, he was knocked down by the carelessness of a cab-driver in crossing one of the crowded streets of his own neighbourhood. Although he recovered from the accident it incapacitated him from labouring on a large cartoon, and he abandoned the competition. He removed to Circus Road, St. John's Wood, where he died, 18th of October, 1847. One of his Herefordshire friends, who happened to be in London, watched by his bedside the last three days and nights of his illness; and at his own request, Cristall was buried near his wife at Goodrich. What little property he had was left to two very faithful servants, who had lived many years with him and his wife.

We have already said that Cristall was a good draftsman, and that his style served to give dignity to the art of water-colour painting. His Welsh knitters and spinners, Scotch shepherdesses and rustic figures, have an air of grandeur without being deprived of their individuality or losing their rusticity. The bare-footed, bare-legged girls of South Wales -- a finer race than those of the North -- whose active out-of-door habits give them ease of motion and pliancy of frame, served him as models, and his pencil invested them with somewhat of classic grandeur.

If we cannot wholly free him from the charge of mannerism, it was of a nature to give his work a separate and distinct character. His art was large and simple, and entirely free from prettiness and insipidity. In his execution he made but little use of the new processes by which finesse of execution is sought and obtained; his brush was free, and he laid his tints flat and clear, not resorting much to stippling or washing; taking out his lights broadly, but carefully avoiding the use of body colours. Thus his pictures are wholly transparent, like those of all the best painters of his day. The practice is now altogether changed; stippling both with transparent and body colours, the opposition of tints by hatching, and the mixture of solid colours even in the flat washes, as is now the practice, produces beautiful results of their kind, but is as an art, wholly distinct from that of the early masters of the school. C ristall sometimes worked in conjunction with other artists, putting in the groups to Robson's Scotch subjects, and adding classical figures to Barret's landscapes. Although many of his pictures consisted of a single figure engaged in some rustic occupation, he occasionally painted large compositions. He was, when resident in London, a member of the Sketching Society, of which mention has been made. Much liked by his companions, and of a cheerful and even disposition, he continued his labours until a good old age, happy in the practice of his profession, and leaving works behind him distinctive in their style, which ought to ensure him a place among the worthies of our water-colour school.

A Century of Painters of the English School: With Critical Notices of Their Works, and an Account of the Progress of Art in England, Volume 1, Richard Redgrave, Samuel Redgrave, 1866. [ocr errors]

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