We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
  Richard Redgrave (1804–1888), self-portrait Richard Redgrave (1804–1888), self-portrait
Redgrave, Richard (1804–1888), painter and arts administrator, was born on 30 April 1804 at 2 Belgrave Terrace, London, the second son of William Redgrave (1775–1845), a manufacturer, and his wife, Mary (d. c.1814), and the younger brother of the art historian . Educated at home and at a school in Chelsea, Redgrave began work as a clerk and draughtsman in his father's factory, which produced wire fencing. Here he developed an aversion to business, a determination to become an artist, and a sympathy for the working poor which would manifest itself later in the subjects of his most important paintings. In 1825 his landscape The River Brent, Near Hanwell was accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy; in the following year he entered the Royal Academy Schools at the late age of twenty-two. Thereafter his works (oils and watercolours) were exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, the British Institution, and the Society of British Artists. He was a founding and life-long member of the Etching Club from 1837.

In the early years Redgrave supported himself by teaching drawing during the day while studying at night in the academy schools. In 1836 he achieved his first popular success at the British Institution with a humorous scene from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, entitled Gulliver Exhibited to the Brobdingnag Farmer (exh. 1836; V&A). Paintings inspired by British literature remained an important staple in his career. Addison, Bunyan, Chaucer, Crabbe, Goldsmith (Olivia's Return to her Parents, exh. RA, 1839; ex Sothebys, New York, 17 February 1986), Johnson (The Reduced Gentleman's Daughter, exh. RA, 1840; V&A), Shakespeare (Ophelia, exh. RA, 1843; V&A), and Spenser, among other authors, were plumbed for material. Historical subjects treated as everyday scenes also contributed to his œuvre. Redgrave was elected an associate at the academy in 1840 and RA in 1851. This professional success allowed him to marry Rose Margaret Bacon (1811–1899) on 30 May 1843. A son and two daughters were born soon afterwards. It was in the 1840s that Redgrave produced his most memorable paintings, ‘lessons of philanthropic appeal on behalf of the oppressed and miserable’ (Dafforne, 205), especially poignant scenes of poor working women.

In 1843 Redgrave exhibited Going to Service (priv. coll.) and The Poor Teacher. Both feature attractive young women forced by poverty into employment outside the security of their own homes, a perilous prospect in the Victorian age. Both embody Redgrave's self-proclaimed goal of ‘calling attention to the trials and struggles of the poor and the oppressed’ (‘Autobiography of Richard Redgrave’, 49). The Poor Teacher was a great success and Redgrave made several versions, including one for his most important patron, John Sheepshanks, entitled The Governess, of 1844 (exh. RA, 1845; V&A). The reviewer for the Art Union found it ‘an appeal on behalf of a class that demands our best sympathies, it is, in fact, a painted sermon—a large and valuable contribution to the cause of humanity’ (Art Union, 180). Such scenes culminated with The Sempstress, of 1844 (exh. RA, 1844), inspired by Thomas Hood's poem The Song of the Shirt (1843), which plaintively decried the condition of urban needlewomen. As was true of his earlier paintings, carefully selected details enrich the narrative and speak of the woman's dismal plight. By focusing on one idealized, saintly needlewoman (rather than upon a more realistic crowd of unkempt, disgruntled workers), Redgrave could more easily elicit sympathy for this working-class martyr from the middle- and upper-class viewing public. This was also his goal in The Outcast, of 1851 (exh. RA, 1851; Royal Academy of Arts), a scene which addresses the modern moral subject of ‘the fallen woman’ (one of the first paintings to do so). This was Redgrave's RA diploma work, following his election to full membership in 1851, and it reflects his desire to be identified professionally with subjects treating modern moral and social issues. Surprisingly, Redgrave turned away from such themes in his later career, focusing instead on landscape subjects—with the exception of The Emigrants' Last Sight of Home, of 1858 (exh. RA, 1859; Tate collection), which, while depicting the timely social theme of emigration which surged in the 1840s and 1850s, features a stunning Surrey landscape as backdrop for a family of emigrants bravely bidding goodbye to their village. By the 1850s landscape subjects began to dominate his output, often inspired by the countryside near his summer house in Abinger, Surrey. These naturalistic landscapes of wooded glens, mossy rocks, and meandering streams (for example, The Woodland Mirror, exh. RA, 1851), were painted with highly detailed, microscopic detail, not unlike Pre-Raphaelite works, though Redgrave's earliest efforts predate their examples. His more conventional landscapes were characterized by an intentionally ‘romantic’ quality emphasized by the lines of poetry that he often attached to them.

Redgrave's productivity as a painter decreased in the last decades of his life as he assumed the new and influential roles of arts administrator and author. Along with Henry Cole, Redgrave became the driving force behind the reform of art education in Great Britain. He held several positions in the Government School of Design (later the Royal College of Art): botanical teacher (1847), headmaster (1848), art superintendent (1852), and in 1857 he became inspector–general for art, in which capacity he developed a national curriculum for art instruction. The School of Design was founded in the 1830s to train craftsmen to improve British industrial design, always a keen interest of Redgrave's. In the late 1840s he contributed designs for ‘Felix Summerly's art manufactures’, Cole's scheme to engage professional artists in the design of manufactured objects; later he produced the impressive design for the duke of Wellington's funeral carriage (1852). Redgrave and Cole supervised the new South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), for which Redgrave designed the innovative art gallery to house John Sheepshanks's extensive collection of British art, given to the state in 1857. He, Cole, and Sheepshanks all held liberal views and wished to make the museum accessible to the working class with generous evening and weekend opening hours.

In response to Redgrave's exceptional administrative skill, more tasks were heaped upon him. He organized the British art section for both the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1855 (for which he received the cross of the French Légion d'honneur) and for the International Exhibition in London in 1862. In 1857 he was appointed surveyor of the queen's pictures, a position he held with great distinction until 1880, during which time he produced a meticulous thirty-four-volume manuscript catalogue of the paintings in the Royal Collection, notable for its commentary on conservation. On his retirement he was created a CB. Redgrave published various texts on art and design, and also wrote with his brother Samuel a valuable history of British art which remains a standard authority, A Century of Painters of the English School (1866), in which he expressed national pride in the development of an English school of art.

Redgrave died at home at 27 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington, London, on 14 December 1888 after suffering for years from increasing blindness and physical debility. His funeral service was held on 18 December at St Mary Abbot's, Kensington, followed by burial in Brompton cemetery. The breadth and depth of his achievements as an artist and civil servant make him an excellent example of the energetic spirit and productivity of the Victorian age.

Kathryn Moore Heleniak


F. M. Redgrave, Richard Redgrave, C.B., R.A.: a memoir compiled from his diary (1891) · ‘The autobiography of Richard Redgrave, ARA’, Art Journal, 12 (1850), 48–9 · J. Dafforne, ‘British artists: their style and character, no. 65, Richard Redgrave’, Art Journal, 19 (1859), 205–7 · S. P. Casteras and R. Parkinson, eds., Richard Redgrave, 1804–1888 (1988) · F. G. Stephens, ‘Richard Redgrave C.B. hon retired R.A.’, Artists at home (New York, 1984), 35–8 · R. Redgrave, On the gift of the Sheepshanks collection with a view to the formation of a national gallery of British art (1857) · DNB · L. Lamborne, ‘Richard Redgrave RA: artist and administrator’, V&A Album, 2 (1983), 115–20 · J. F. Codell, ‘Righting the Victorian artist: the Redgraves' A century of painters of the English school, and the serialization of art history’, Oxford Art Journal, 23/2 (2000), 95–120 · K. M. Heleniak, ‘Victorian collections and British nationalism’, Journal of the History of Collections, 12 (2000), 91–107 · F. Collard, ‘Richard Redgrave and the Summerly art-manufactures’, Burlington Magazine, 136 (1994), 314–6 · J. Physick, The Victoria and Albert Museum: the history of its building (1982) · L. Ettlinger, ‘The duke of Wellington's funeral car’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 3 (1939–40), 154–9 · Graves, Brit. Inst. · Graves, RA exhibitors · J. Johnson, ed., Works exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists, 1824–1893, and the New English Art Club, 1888–1917, 2 vols. (1975) · Art Union, 7 (1845), 180 · The Times (8 May 1844), 7 · m. cert. · d. cert.


V&A, family corresp.; letters |  V&A, corresp. with H. Cole


R. Redgrave, self-portrait, oils, c.1827, Yale U. CBA · F. Grant, pencil and brown wash, 1872, NPG · A. S. Cope, oils, 1884, Aberdeen Art Gallery · G. Ledward, marble bust, 1915–16 (after terracotta by R. A. Ledward, 1881), V&A · Elliott & Fry, carte-de-visite, NPG · Lock & Whitfield, woodburytype, NPG; repro. in T. Cooper, Men of mark: a gallery of contemporary portraits (1878) · J. P. Mayall, photogravure (as an elderly man), repro. in Stephens, ‘Richard Redgrave’, facing p. 38 · R. Redgrave, self-portrait, oils, NPG [see illus.] · woodcut, BM; repro. in ‘Autobiography of Richard Redgrave’, Art Journal, 12 (1850)

Wealth at death  

£42,769 14s. 9d.: probate, 1 Feb 1889, CGPLA Eng. & Wales