State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 37 Autumn 1986


John Richardson, Artist: circa 1818 — 1862

It is not often that one has the opportunity to resurrect the persona of a painter who has disappeared from the art-historical landscape. John Richardson has merely been known as the father of Charles Douglas Richardson, the sculptor, who has recently been undergong a reassessment.1 In addition he has been a family memory kept alive by the possession of a few excellent paintings, three silver medals and an ivory token. There is also the family tradition that before coming to Australia he had exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and that he and his family lived in Portland for a period. The one indisputable fact is that he died in Victoria in 1862.
His death certificate tells us that he was born in London circa 1818, the son of Thomas Richardson, a schoolmaster, and his wife Sarah, née Fisher. At the age of thirty-five he married Mary Francis Holmes and when he died, he left her with four children, a fifth having predeceased him. The family had lived at least three years in Victoria.
There are scant records of his education. In 1832 he was presented with a silver medal from the Rev. Robert Simson of the Colebrook House Academy. This was a small private school at 1 Colebrook Row, Islington.2 In 1836 he received an ivory token to show that he had entered the Antique School of the Royal Academy. It is not known whether he attended the other classes at that institution. While presumably still a student he was awarded in 1835 the Silver Pallet of the Society (later Royal Society) of Arts “for a copy in oil of a group of portraits”. The Society's Transactions of 1836/38 give his address as 1 Colebrook Row, Islington.3 In 1843 he received the Society's Silver Medal for his “portraits of a family in oil”. His address was given as Colebrook House, Islington, that is, the same address as above.4
These medals are in fact the key to his identity. The Post Office directories of London list John Richardson, a portrait painter, as the occupant of a number of houses in Colebrook Row during the 1840s and 1850s. In 1847 he still resided at 1 Colebrook Row, that is, at the Colebrook House Academy, and it is logical to assume that he taught at the school.5 It is interesting to note that in 1857 a Miss Richardson, perhaps a sister, was listed as having a “Ladies’ school” in a neighbouring house.6 Years later when advertising his art classes in Portland he described his life in London:
“Mr. Richardson has for many years successfully conducted classes at the London University, and in various Public Schools and Institutions in the neighbourhood of London; and among those instructed by him are many who at present occupy high positions in the field of art, both as amateurs and professionals”.7
Finding references to his London work is initially a little difficult. Again only the address separates his work from that of his contemporaries. In an advertisement for some paintings to be disposed of while he was in Portland, Richardson claimed that:
“These works have been exhibited at the Royal Academy, and other exhibitions in London, have been highly praised, and some of them have received prizes at the Society of Arts”.8
In March 1860 his painting, Pifferari, arrived out from England. It was described as “lately exhibited in the Royal Academy Exhibition” and depicted two Italian minstrels resting by the road-side.9
But where are the records of these paintings? At first sight they have disappeared. The problem originated in the catalogues of the Royal Academy. From the years 1846 to 1858 a J. Richardson, who lived in various houses in Colebrook Row, exhibited the following paintings:
1846 no, 214 Laon attempting the rescue of Cythna;
1847 no. 241 The bird's nest;
1851 no. 755 The stranger's burial;
1852 no. 1143 Sitting for a portrait;
1853 no. 1295 Baby's first walk;
1854 no. 356 Evening;
1858 no. 552 “Pifferari”— a study.
In 1860 another J. Richardson began to exhibit from 12 Porchester Terrace. In 1862 he became J. J. Richardson and continued exhibiting until 1884.10 Unfortunately the difference was not realised by Algernon Graves when he compiled his alphabetical list of exhibitors at the Royal Academy.11 Quite naturally he included John Richardson's work within the oeuvre of J. J Richardson.
Actually this J. J. Richardson was John Isaac Richardson, the son of Thomas Miles Richardson the Elder of Porchester Terrace. He was born in 1836 and hence is most unlikely to have exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of ten! However, we read in at least one biographical dictionary that he “at a very early age had his picture hung in the
Royal Academy”.12 In fact his age was about twenty-four.
Graves repeated his original error in his index of exhibitors at the British Institution.13 Of the four works attributed to John J. Richardson the first was actually by our John Richardson:
1856 no 88 We are all Frozen-out poor Watercress Girls, £10.
The shipping lists held by the Public Record Office, Victoria, reveal that Richardson and his family arrived in Melbourne aboard the Swiftsure on 29 September 1858. John gave his occupation as “Merchant”. They were cabin passengers and were accompanied by one female servant; hence one may assume that financially they were relatively comfortable.
Within little more than a week the Richardsons arrived in Portland in the Western District.14 Thomas Elliott Richardson, the artist's elder brother, had been living there for almost ten years. He was a graduate of the University of Glasgow and a minister of the Presbyterian Church.15 He had arrived early in 1849 to be the local minister and had overseen the building of Scots Church, Portland. However, he had resigned from his position in 1851.16In 1858 he was the editor and proprietor of the Portland Guardian, which he had acquired in July 1852.17
From various small articles and notices in that newspaper we learn that John Richardson continued his work as a portrait painter and ran classes in drawing and painting.18 He also served as the editor of the newspaper when his brother was ill.19 Photography, however, was undoubtedly his main source of income:
“We have just seen some Photographic portraits recently executed by Mr. J. Richardson, in a style which, we believe, is quite new in this colony. They are painted in oil colors and while possessing the richness of coloring and the solidity and texture of thorough oil paintings, have all the minuteness of detail and truthful resemblance peculiar to the Photograph. Others painted in water colors resemble highly finished miniatures in ivory. By Mr. Richardson's peculiar process, the great desideratum in Photographs has been achieved — that of preserving the exquisite coloring of nature without sacrificing any of the admirable details of the most elaborate Photographs”.20
The Richardson brothers participated in the usual social activities of a nineteenth-century country community. They were members of the Benevolent Society21 and lectured at the Portland Mechanics’ Institute. John's topic was “On Beauty, in connection with Painting”; Thomas lectured on comets.22 They took an active interest in the local political life. Thomas was on the local council for about one year23 and was also a member of the Road Board.24 Later he was Secretary of the unsuccessful West Victoria Separation League, which sought to join the Western District of Victoria with the South-Eastern District of South Australia to form the self-governing colony of Princeland.25 Both brothers were on a committee26 to return J. N. McLeod, a local squatter, to the Legislative Assembly.27
It is difficult to ascertain how many paintings Richardson actually produced while in Portland. In August 1859 he exhibited twenty-three paintings in a large room above the office of the Portland Guardian.28 The novelty stimulated great interest and over eighty people went to view the collection on a single Saturday.29 A few weeks later the newspaper listed nine paintings which had been sold:
No. 1 Scene from Byron's “Darkness”, £90;
No. 2 The stranger's burial, £40;
No. 5 Laon attempting the rescue of Cythna, a sketch, £10
No.? The Holy Family, after Schidoni, £40;
No. 11 Gipsy encampment, after Teniers, £25;
No. 13 Landscape and sheep, after Cuyp, £15;
No. 14 The fortune teller, after Reynolds, £30;
No.17 A boar hunt, after Snyders, £15;
No.? Two small landscapes, £230.”
As was common in this period, the remaining works with four additions were raffled in what was commonly called an “Art Union”.31 The details were advertised:
“According to previous announcement, the remainder of the Valuable Collection of Paintings, by Mr. J. Richardson, consisting of Original Paintings of various subjects, and copies from the Old Masters, is about to be disposed of by Art Union.… There are in all 18 Paintings, and there will be 190 shares at One Guinea each”.32
In late September 1860 the winning tickets were finally drawn. It was quite a social event, with a Chairman and a Committee. An adult and a child were each positioned at a box; one drew the names of the paintings and the other the winners’ names.
The paintings and their values were listed in the Portland Guardian:
Family of Charles 1st, £15;
View of Hastings, £8;
Portrait of Mrs. Lloyd, R. A., after Reynolds, £5;
Landscape, after Power, £15;
Sitting for a portrait, £10;
Job and his comforters, after [S.] Rosa, £10;
Frozen out water cress girls, £8;
Soliciting a vote, after Buss, £10;
Learning the flageolet, £8;
Evening reading the Scriptures, £25;
Head of the Virgin, after Vandyke, £2;
On the beach, after Collins, £5;
Head of Herodias Mother, after Guercho (sic), £3–10s.;
River scene, after Noble, £3–10s.;
Carlton, Bishop of Carlisle, denouncing the Duke of Lancaster, £25;
Sketch on Hampshire Heath, £3;
The globe lesson, £25;
The Salutation, after Salviati, £1233
It is likely that most, if not all, the paintings in the above two lists had been brought out from England. At least two paintings had been exhibited at the Royal Academy: The stranger's burial and Sitting for a portrait. Laon attempting the rescue of Cythna, a sketch was probably only a preliminary work for the finished oil. Frozen out water cress girls had been exhibited at the British Institution. A high proportion of the rest consisted of copies or adaptations of old masters and hence it is likely that they were also executed overseas.
However, we know that some of the local gentry took advantage of Richardson's skill as a portraitist:
“We have had the opportunity of viewing some portraits from the pencil of Mr. J. Richardson, executed in Pastel. One is a likeness of E. Manning, Esq., P.M., and is given with great truthfulness and delicacy of effect”.34
After Richardson had disposed of his paintings, he moved to Melbourne. He took up residence at “Green Mount House”, Octavia Street, Saint Kilda. Little is known of his activities except that he became a “Drawing Master at the Denominational Schools”35 In 1861 he contributed one work, Drawing from Life, to the Victorian Exhibition of Fine Arts held in Charles Summers’ studio in Collins Street.36 The artist died of typhus in his own home on 18 May 1862, aged forty-four years, leaving behind an unfinished painting of Burke and Wills. This was posthumously exhibited with Pifferari at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866.37 It still survives in the possession of his descendants, along with some family portraits.
Michael Watson


See the recent catalogue by Juliet Peers, Charles Douglas Richardson, Melbourne; University Gallery, University of Melbourne, 1985. An article on John Richardson will appear in the forthcoming Dictionary of Australian Artists, Working Paper II, published by the Power Institute of Fine Arts, University of Sydney.


Post Office London Directory, 1843, London; Kelly, 1843, p. 172, lists Simson and Colebrook House at this address. This medal and those mentioned below are still in the possession of the family.


See the Transactions of the Royal Society of Arts, v.51, 1836–38, p.xiv, for a list of “rewards bestowed in 1834–35”.


Ibid, v.54, 1843–45, p.xvi, for the “rewards bestowed by the Society during the session 1842–43”.


See Post Office London Directory, 1847, p. 194. This assumes that the Academy still existed, for it is not actually listed as such.


The directory of 1857, p.318, lists Miss Mary Frances Richardson with her “Ladies’ school”at no.3 Colebrook Row.


Portland Guardian, 19 September 1859, p.3 (advertisement).


Ibid. 16 December 1859, p.3.


Ibid. 26 March 1860, p.2.


See Royal Academy of Arts, London. The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts [Catalogue], 78th, 1846 — 116th, 1884, London; Clowes, 1846–84.


A Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts: a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, London; Bell, 1905, vol.VI, p.286.1 do not wish to belittle the importance of Graves's work in indexing exhibition and sales catalogues. In the case of John Richardson the error is quite understandable.


Who was who 1897–1916, London; Black, 1920, where he is listed as John I. Richardson. Note that it is the later Post Office directories of London which give his name as John Isaac Richardson (eg. in 1882). See also the entry for John J. Richardson in U. Thieme and F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildendem Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, Leipzig; Englemann, etc., 1907–1950. The “J”probably resulted from misreading cursive script.


A. Graves, The British Institution 1806–1867: a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from the foundation of the institution, London; Bell, 1908, p.453.


They arrived in Portland on 5 October: Portland Guardian, 8 October 1858, p.2.


W.I. Addison, Roll of the graduates of the University of Glasgow from 31 December 1727 to 31 December 1897, Glasgow; MacLehose, 1898, p.517, B.A. 1836; M.A. 1837.


W. Huey Steele, Scots Church Portland 1842–1942: being a history of the Presbyterian Church, Portland, Victoria: written for the centenary 1942. La Trobe Collection, Ms.7963, pp.99–112 and 146f.


Ill health forced him to sell the paper in 1863. See his obituary in the Portland Guardian 3 May 1869, p.2 and the Hamilton Spectator 8 May 1869, p.2. Note also the Portland Guardian 2 April 1863, p.3: “increasing infirmity renders me quite inadequate”.


See particularly the large advertisement in the Portland Guardian, 19 September 1859, p.3. Cf. ibid. 27 January 1860, p.1 and 6 July 1860, p.3.


Ibid. 11 April 1859, p.2.


Ibid. 10 February 1860, p.2.


Ibid. 30 May 1859, p.2.


Ibid. 8 August 1860, p.3; ibid. 12 September 1860, p.2. gives a description of John's lecture.


Ibid. 10 March 1858, p.2 (elected) and 17 January 1859, p.1 (retired).


Ibid. 11 April 1859, p.2.


See note 17 for his obituary. See also the pamphlet written mainly by Thomas Richardson: West Victoria Separation League. West Victoria Separation League for the union of western Victoria and the south eastern district of South Australia into an independent colony, Portland; The Guardian, 1862. The League was seen as a tool of the wealthy; see especially the Portland Chronicle, 14 February 1862, p.2; 28 February 1862, p.2; 14 March 1862, p.2; 28 March 1862, p.2.


Portland Chronicle, 13 September 1859, p.3.


John Norman McLeod (1816–1886) was the Member for Portland from April 1859 to September 1860 when he resigned. For references see K. Thomson and G. Serle, A biographical register of the Victorian parliament 1851–1900, Canberra; A.N.U. Press, 1972, p.134f.


Portland Guardian, 3 August 1859, p.2.


Ibid. 8 August 1859, p.2.


Ibid. 24 August 1859, p.2.


For a general discussion of Art Unions see M. Hol-yoake, “Art Unions — catalysts of Australian art”, Art and Australia, v.12, April-June 1975, pp.381–384.


Portland Guardian, 16 December 1859, p.3.


Ibid. 28 September 1860, p.2.


Portland Chronicle, 14 October 1859, p.2. Edward Manning was an Acting Police Magistrate for a period from April 1859; see the Portland Guardian, 15 April 1859, p.2.


Death notice: ibid. 22 May 1862, p.2.


Catalogue of the Victorian Exhibition of Fine Arts, Melbourne; [1861], no.13. The catalogue supplies the name of his house.


Melbourne. Intercolonial Exhibition, 1866. Official catalogue, 2nd ed. Melbourne; 1866, p.106, no.148 and p.108, no.262.