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Richter, Henry James (1772–1857), artist and philosopher, was born in Newman Street, Marylebone, Middlesex, or possibly at 40 Great Newport Street, Soho, on 8 March 1772 and baptized at St Anne's, Soho, on 5 April. He was the second son of Mary Haig and John Augustus Richter, a native of Dresden, an artist, engraver, and scagliolist, well known for his works in imitation of marble. , a prominent radical politician, was probably his elder brother. Another brother, Thomas, was a director of the Phoenix Life Insurance Company. Richter was educated at Dr Barrow's school, Soho and St Martin's Library School, London. About 1787 he received tuition in art from his neighbour Thomas Stothard, with whom he remained a close friend, and through whom he became an intimate of William Blake. In 1788 he produced his first illustrations (to Shakespeare's plays), and first exhibited paintings, showing two landscapes at the Royal Academy, where he exhibited for many years. He became a student of the Royal Academy Schools in 1790, at which time he probably began his thorough study of anatomy.

Throughout the 1790s Richter worked mainly as an illustrator, demonstrating skills as both draughtsman and engraver; projects included editions of Samuel Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison and Clarissa Harlowe (with others, both 1793), Samuel Johnson's Lives of the English Poets (with others, 1797), and J.-H. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's Paul and Virginia (1799). In 1809 Richter began to exhibit at the Associated Artists in Water Colours, Bond Street, becoming a member in 1810, and president in 1811–12. His most popular work at this stage was the genre subject A Brute of a Husband, though he also established himself as a literary painter, with depictions of such characters as Don Quixote and Falstaff, and became one of the few notable artists to paint historical subjects in watercolour. With the dissolution of the Associated Artists in Water Colours in 1812 he was elected a member of the Society of Painters in Oil and Water Colours, though he resigned his membership in December of the same year, and until 1820 was represented on its walls only as an exhibitor. (In that year the society returned to its original form as the Society of Painters in Water Colours.)

Richter was a pioneer in painting from nature, in both practice and theory. In 1812 he painted the oil Christ Giving Sight to the Blind, in bright sunlight on the roof of his house in Newman Street; the work was purchased by the trustees of the British Institution for 500 guineas and later presented to the New Church, Greenwich, completed in 1825, where it was installed as an altarpiece. A second version, attempting to improve on its truth to nature, was exhibited four years later. Then, in 1817, he published the pamphlet Daylight: a recent discovery in the art of painting, with hints on the philosophy of the fine arts, and on that of the human mind, as first dissected by Emmanuel Kant. His more general ideas, including his approach to colour and use of models of his compositions in clay or wax, influenced other painters, notably the miniature painter James Holmes. Daylight combined his artistic interests with his study of metaphysical philosophy. (He was probably the author of the article entitled ‘On Mr Hume's account of the origin of the idea of the necessary condition’ (Monthly Magazine, 1797).) He also wrote part of the article ‘Metaphysics’ in the Encyclopaedia Londonensis and a paper, German Transcendentalism (1855). He was translating a metaphysical work by J. S. Beck, a former student of Kant, at the time of his death.

In 1821 Richter was again elected to the Society of Painters in Water Colours, though his membership and the frequency of his exhibits varied through the decade. But from 1829 until his death he was both a member and a frequent exhibitor. The subjects of his most ambitious paintings of this later phase were taken from Shakespeare. His work became highly popular through reproductive engravings and, from 1828, through the illustrations he produced for annuals such as the Forget-me-Not; one painting, The School in an Uproar, was even printed on pocket handkerchiefs. Examples of his work are in the British Museum.

Richter was married twice: first, at Marylebone on 9 July 1808, to Elizabeth née Smith; second, at Marylebone on 2 May 1818, to Charlotte Sophia née Edson (d. 1862). He had at least two sons and two daughters. He died at his home, 101 Lisson Grove, London, on 8 April 1857. His daughter Henrietta Sophia Richter (1813–1896) was a successful amateur portrait painter, who exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1842 to 1849. His son Henry Constantine Richter (1821–1902) became a draughtsman and lithographer, noted for his illustrations of birds and mammals which were reproduced in the works of the naturalist John Gould.

L. H. Cust, rev. David Wootton


A. T. Story, James Holmes and John Varley (1894) · Mallalieu, Watercolour artists, 2nd edn, vol. 1 · J. Gage, A decade of English naturalism, 1810–1820 [1969] [exhibition catalogue, Norwich Castle Museum, 15 Nov – 15 Dec 1969, and V&A, 15 Jan – 28 Feb 1970] · M. Hardie, Water-colour painting in Britain, ed. D. Snelgrove, J. Mayne, and B. Taylor, 2nd edn, 3 vols. [1967–8] · H. Hammelmann, Book illustrators in eighteenth-century England, ed. T. S. R. Boase (1975) · Hume Archives, www.utm.edu/research/hume [administered by Jim Freser of the University of Tennessee at Martin] · S. M. Bennett, Thomas Stothard: the mechanisms of art patronage in England, c. 1800 (1988) · G. E. Bentley, The stranger from paradise: a biography of William Blake (2001) · Art Journal, 19 (1857), 162 · M. H. Grant, A dictionary of British landscape painters, from the 16th century to the early 20th century (1952) · B. Stewart and M. Cutten, The dictionary of portrait painters in Britain up to 1920 (1997) · D. Foskett, Miniatures: dictionary and guide (1987) · administration, TNA: PRO, PROB 6/233, fol. 337r · poor rate books, Soho, St Anne's, 1770–73, City of Westminster AS, A238a–A245 · parish register, Soho, St Anne's, City of Westminster AS, 5 April 1772 [baptism] · Marylebone parish registers · C. E. Jackson, ‘H. C. Richter: John Gould's unknown bird artist’, Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 9 (1978) · private information (2012) [P. van der Merwe]


V&A NAL, corresp.

Wealth at death  

£300: administration, TNA: PRO, PROB 6/233, fol. 337r