Sir Charles Lock Eastlake
(17 November 1793 - 24 December 1865)
Charles Eastlake was born at Plymouth, his father being Solicitor to the Admiralty. The example of Haydon, and the lure of his "Dentatus," lead him to adopt the career of a painter. Under Fuseli he studied at the Royal Academy School. His first exhibited canvas was a religious subject -- "Christ Raising the Daughter of Jairus" (1814). The following year he exhibited an historical composition -- "Brutus exhorting the Romans to Revenge the Death of Lucrezia": both were painted for the British Institution. "Mercury bringing the Golden Apple to Paris" was exhibited in 1820, and then followed a long suite of historic-classical compositions. Perhaps the most popular was "Pilgrims Arriving in Sight of Rome and St Peter's" (1828). At the National Gallery, at Millbank, are "Christ Lamenting Over Jerusalem," "Lord Byron's Dream" -- a poetical landscape (1829), "Escape of the Carrara Family" (1834), and three portraits. At the Victoria and Albert Museum are four Italian subjects -- very beautifully coloured, and the Diploma Gallery has "Hagar and Ishmael." He was knighted, in 1850, by Queen Victoria on his election as President of the Royal Academy. In 1849 he married Elizabeth Rigby, an art historian and translator of German art histories. Together, he and Lady Eastlake formed Britain's earliest serious art-history writing ventures. His mode of painting clearly aimed at what Sir Frederick Leighton later on accomplished; it is an aspiration for better things the arrangement somewhat cramped, but with rich colours. Sir Charles died sadly alone at Piza in 1865.[British painters: Charles Eastlake, pg. 212; Their Story and Their Art (1800) John Edgcumbe Staley]
Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, the youngest son of George Eastlake, solicitor to the Admiralty and Judge-Advocate at Plymouth, was born in that town, November 17, 1793. He was educated at the Plympton Grammar School, where Sir Joshua Reynolds had previously studied, and he was one of the first pupils of Prout, also a native of Plymouth, whom he occasionally accompanied on his excursions into the country to study nature. When fourteen years of age, he was sent to the Charterhouse School, London, but he left in 1808 in order to study art under Haydon, his fellow-townsman. In 1809 he became a student in the Royal Academy Schools, and in 1814 visited Paris for a few months. In 1815, while Eastlake was employed painting portraits in his native town, Napoleon arrived there on board the 'Bellerophon,' and the young artist took advantage of every glimpse he could obtain of the ex-Emperor to make studies of him, by the aid of which he painted a life-size picture of Napoleon, standing at the gangway of the ship, attended by his officers. This work, which is now the property of the Marquess of Lansdowne, attracted great attention, and was so well sold as to enable the painter to visit Italy in 1817.
He then, in 1819, proceeded to Greece, on a commission from Mr. Harman, his first patron, to make sketches of the architectural remains and the scenery of that classic soil. In some of these journeys he was accompanied by Brockedon, the painter, and Sir Charles Barry, the architect. On his return, after nearly a year's absence, and having visited Malta and Sicily in the course of his tour, Eastlake painted a life-size picture of "Mercury bringing the Golden Apple to Paris." Shortly after the death of his father, which had brought him back to England in 1820, he returned to Hume, and became much occupied in painiting subjects illustrative of the local features, inihabitants, and customs of modern Italy. He resided in Italy altogether fourteen years, chiefly in Rome and in Ferrara.
He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1823, his earliest contributions being scenes in which public buildings, such as the Castle of St. Angelo, St. Peter's, etc., were a principal feature. These were followed by subjects taken from Italian life in the neighbourhood of Rome, subjects of banditti life, etc. Commissioned by the Duke of Devonshire, he painted, in 1827, a picture representing the story related by Plutarch of "The Spartan Isidas," who, appearing in battle naked, and armed with sword and spear, was mistaken for a god. This picture, consisting of numerous figures, and of medium gallery size, occupied the painter nearly two years, and produced considerable sensation amongst the artists and dilettanti at Rome. In England it was not so generally appreciated; but its merit was acknowledged by the Royal Academy, of which body he was elected an Associate in 1827, the year of its exhibition. About this time, captivated by Venetian colouring, he painted some subjects of half-figures, life-size, sometimes of chivalrous character, sometimes taken from the picturesque peasantry of Italy. He was, in 1830, elected a Royal Academician. In the same year he returned to England, and established himself in London. The subjects now treated by him were undertaken chiefly in order to turn to account his materials from the costume and scenery of modern Greece. He varied his studies at this time by portrait-painting, and by his favourite half-figures in the Venetian style. He also occasionally treated small fancy subjects, and historic and modern Italian subjects. But henceforth his time was devoted to the service of art, by advice and by writing, rather than by any practical work. He exhibited but five pictures at the Royal Academy after his election as president.
In the year 1841 Eastlake was appointed secretary to the Royal Commission for decorating the new Houses of Parliament and for the promotion of the Fine Arts, and he conducted the business of that commission until its dissolution after the death of its president, the Prince Consort. In 1842, he was made librarian of the Royal Academy, and in the following year he became keeper of the National Gallery, which office, however, he resigned in 1847. On the death of Sir Martin Shee, in 1850, he was elected president of the Royal Academy and received the customary honour of knight-hood. He also became a trustee of the National Gallery, of which he was, in 1855, made director for a period of five years. This appointment was renewed in 1860, and again in 1865, and during his tenure of office he was instrumental in obtaining for the nation many of its greatest treasures.
His literary productions were all connected with art; he edited, in 1842, a translation of Kugler's 'Italian Schools of Painting' (subsequently re-edited by his widow); but his chief works were his 'Materials for a History of Oil-Painting' (1847), and 'Contributions to the Literature of the Fine Arts' (1848).
In August, 1865, Sir Charles Eastlake left England, exceedingly unwell, for his
usual annual tour on the continent, taken with a view of acquiring further examples for the
National Gallery. At Milan he became seriously ill, but rallying slightly, pushed on to Pisa, where he died December 24, 1865. He was buried first in the English cemetery at Florence, but was subsequently re-interred at Kensal Green. The following are some of his principal paintings:
SIR CHARLES LOCK EASTLAKE (1793-1865), English painter, was born on the 17th of November 1793 at Plymouth, where his father, a man of uncommon gifts but of indolent temperament, was solicitor to the admiralty and judge advocate of the admiralty court. Charles was educated (like Sir Joshua Reynolds) at the Plympton grammar-school, and in London at the Charterhouse. Towards 1809, partly through the influence of his fellow-Devonian, Benjamin Haydon, (of whom he became his first pupil) he determined to be a painter; he also studied in the Royal Academy school. In 1813 he exhibited in the British Institution his first picture, a work of considerable size, "Christ restoring life to the daughter of Jairus." In 1814 he was commissioned to copy some of the paintings collected by Napoleon in the Louvre; he returned to England in 1815, and practised portrait-painting at Plymouth. Here he saw Napoleon, a captive on the "Bellerophon"; from a boat he made some sketches of the emperor, and he afterwards painted, from these sketches and from memory, a life-sized full-length portrait of him (with some of his officers) which was pronounced a good likeness; it belongs to the Marquess of Lansdowne. In 1817 Eastlake went to Italy; in 1819 to Greece; in 1820 back to Italy, where he remained altogether fourteen years, chiefly in Rome and in Ferrara.
In 1827 he exhibited at the Royal Academy his picture of the "Spartan Isidas," who (as narrated by Plutarch in the life of Agesilaus), rushing naked out of his bath, performed prodigies of valour against the Theban host. This was the first work that attracted much notice to the name of Eastlake, who in consequence obtained his election as A.R.A.; in 1830, when he returned to England, he was chosen R.A. In 1850 he succeeded Shee as president of the Royal Academy, and was knighted. Prior to this, in 1841, he had been appointed secretary to the royal commission for decorating the Houses of Parliament, and he retained this post until the commission was dissolved in 1862. In 1843 he was made keeper of the National Gallery, a post which he resigned in 1847 in consequence of an unfortunate purchase that roused much animadversion, a portrait erroneously ascribed to Holbein; in 1855, director of the same institution, with more extended powers. During his directorship he purchased for the gallery 155 pictures, mostly of the Italian schools. He became also a D.C.L. of Oxford, F.R.S., a chevalier of the Legion of Honour, and member of various foreign academies.
In 1849 he married Miss Elizabeth Rigby, who had already then become known as a writer (Letters from the Baltic, 1841; Livonian Tales, 1846; The Jewess, 1848; and as a contributor to the Quarterly Review. Lady Eastlake (1809-1893) had for some years been interested in art subjects, and after her marriage she naturally devoted more attention to them, translating Waagen's Treasures of Art in Great Britain (1854-1857), and completing Mrs. Jameson's History of our Lord in Works of Art. In 1865 Sir Charles Eastlake fell ill at Milan; and he died at Pisa on the 24th of December in the same year. Lady Eastlake, who survived him for many years, continued to play an active part as a writer on art (Five Great Painters, 1883, etc.), and had a large circle of friends among the most interesting men and women of the day. In 1880 she published a volume of Letters from France describing events in Paris during 1789, written by her father, Edward Rigby (1747-1821), a distinguished Norwich doctor who was known also for his practical interest in agriculture, and who is said to have made known the flying shuttle to Norwich manufacturers.
As a painter, Sir Charles Eastlake was gentle, harmonious, diligent and correct; lacking fire of
invention or of execution; eclectic, without being exactly imitative; influenced rather by a love
of ideal grace and beauty than by any marked bent of individual power or vigorous originality. Among his principal works (which were not numerous, 51 being the total exhibited in the Academy) are: