Briton Rivière (England, 1840-1920)

His only friend.
Figure 1.--Riviere Briton painted this genre work in 1871--'His only friend'. Like many of his paintings, an animal is featured, in this case the boy's faithful dog. It would have appealed to the sentimentality of the Victyorian Era. We are not sure, howver, about the story line. The way the boy is dressed in rags, he is clearly an abandoned boy and not a run away. We thin his son Hugh may have posed for the painting. Rivière painted another image with a gitrl and a dog--'Sumpathy'. This gtime he used his daughter as a model.

Briton Rivière was an Irish artist born in London (1840). The French family name comes from Hugenout descent. We are not familiar with any paintings, however, depicting the Hugenouts. You might think he would paint at least one. Briton came from an artistic family. His father, William Rivière, taught as the drawing-master at Cheltenham College. The College was notable as the first of the new Victorian public schools. He then taught art at Oxford. Briton was as a result, educated at Cheltenham and then Oxford where he earned a degree (1867). He did not study art, but was largely taught by his father. And after graduating from Oxford soon developed a respected reputation. He was best known for genre paintings as well as Biblical abd historical scenes. He exhibited at the Royal Academy while still aeenager (1857). He was exhibing regularly (1863). His genre works usually involved animals to which he was particularly drawn. He painted a few sentimental works involving children and animals. Here we see, 'His only friend' which he painted in 1871. It was one of many works with animals which he delighted in painting. It would have appealed to the sentimentality of the Victorian Era. We are not sure, howver, about the story line.

Family

Briton Rivière was an Irish artist born in London (1840). The French family name comes from Hugenout descent. We are not familiar with any paintings, however, depicting the Hugenouts. You might think he would paint at least one. Briton came from an artistic family. His father, William Rivière, taught as the drawing-master at Cheltenham College. The College was notable as the first of the new Victorian public schools. He then taught art at Oxford.

Childhood

Briton grew up in the academic atmosphere of an English public (selective private) school and Ixford University.

Education

Briton was as a result, educated at Cheltenham and then Oxford where he earned a degree (1867). He was a rare artist with an Oxford University Degree. He did not study art, but was largely taught by his father.

Family

His son Hugh (1869-1956) became a successful portrait painter. We wonder if Hugh duid not pose for 'His only friend'. Hugh was about the right age. We know that his daughter Milicent posed for 'Sympthy'. Note the similarities of the dogs in both images with a color change. We are guessing this was the family dog.

Career

Rivière after graduating from Oxford soon developed a respected reputation. He was best known for genre paintings as well as Biblical abd historical scenes. He exhibited at the Royal Academy while still a teenager (1857). He was exhibing regularly (1863). Early paintings uncluded standards like 'The Eve of the Spanish Armada' (1863) and 'Romeo and Juliet' (1864). He soon shifted to genre works usually involved animals to which he was particularly drawn. Some have even described him as an 'animal painter', the successor of Landseer (1802-1873) whose career ended just as Rivière emerged as an accomplished animal painter. Animals were either included or were a major component of the paintings. Riviere lived near to London's famed Regent Park Zoo. He could often be found there studying the physiology and behavior of the animals. He painted beautiful depictions of the animals. One art experts describes them as 'glorified, romanticised pictures'. He also some times introduced an element of humor. That is not on display in 'His only friend', but can be seen in 'Sympthy'. Images like this were very well received by the Victorian opublic and he achieved great popularity. Rivière painted both wild and domesticated animals. The domestic animals were mostly digs and are depicted with Victorian sentimentality. As a result they sold well at the time. He did several works with Biblical themes, often featuring animals such as Daniel in the lions' den. These images were widely used in Christian publications and even jincluded in some Bibles. He painted a few sentimental works involving children and animals. Here we see, 'His only friend'. Rivière also did some work as an illustrator as a young artist, including work for Punch.

His Only Friend (1871)

Rivière painted a few sentimental woks involving children and animals. Here we see, 'His only friend' which he painted in 1871. It was one of many works with animals which he delighted in painting. It would have appealed to the sentimentality of the Victorian Era. We were not sure, howver, about the story line. The original is in the Manchester Art Gallery.

The painting

A British reader writes, "I went into Manchester today and visited the city art gallery. it is quite near my bus stop. The insights provided by the curators under the painting is informative. Riviere was the most notable animal painter after Sir Edward Landseer. Rivière's painting 'His only friend' is firstly highly sentimental which was not uncommon with Victorian art. It focuses on the nature of a boy's relationship with the dog. At the same time is also focuses attention to the skinny, barefooted boy who represents rural exploitation of children. The fleeing of such conditions created an increase in vagrants on British roads at the time. Briton links it to the Oliver Twist poverty and the young vagrant is only 31 miles from London and a bleak future. His only friend like such vagrants today is his dog."

Rural poverty

Despite the perhaps over-the-top sentimentality, Rivière addresses a topic commonly ignored by artists and poverty of the day--rural poverty. The artistic community commonly fiocuses on urban poverty and treats rural life with great sentimerntality. There is a tendenvy to equate the Industrial Revolution as the cause of poverty. We see this especually in Dicken's works like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. While it is certainly true that there was both poverty and exploitation in Britain's risung industrial cuities, it is often ignored that for the first time in history, capitalism and the Industrial Revolution enabled the great bulk of the population to rise above grinding poverty and either earn aecent life or enter the middle class.

Sympathy (1877)

'Sympathy' was another of Briton Rivière's sentimental painting depicting children and animals. Rivière painted it in 1877. In this case he depicted a girl in a blue dress which her white dog is comforting. He did not often do children, but animals are almost always opresent in his works. It is a charming image and fully in keeping with the Victorian love for sentimental depictions, especially of children. This is a good example of his story telling and sometimes humor he used in his animal depictions. The story here is that the little girl has been naughty and has been sent in disgrace to ponder her misdeeds on a landing in the stairs--rather than a corner which could have not been depicted in the same way. Here she is conforted by her little dog, Rivière was very popular with the Victorian public and this was among his most popular works. The girl was his daughter Millicent. The original is in the Tate Gallery.

Naughty Boy or Compulsory Education (1909)

This later work was used by Pears Soap in its famous sequence of promotional pictures that began with Millais' famous "Bubbles". The child is clearly a girl. I think the title refers to the great dane that is tryinng to muzzel in on the little girl's reading. I'm not sure why it is also titled 'Cumpulsory education'. We have not yet found a good image of this work. We hope that readers may eventually be able to find one.

Recognition

Rivière was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy (1878) and R.A. (1881). He was awarded the DCL degree at Oxford (1891). He was almost elected President of the Royal Academy, but was xsurprisingly defeated (1896).






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Created: 4:29 PM 8/15/2011
Last updated: 3:42 PM 8/17/2011