George Richmond R.A., personal papers

RA Collection: Archive

Archive context

Showing item 52 of 73 in this group

Reference code



George Richmond R.A., personal papers





Extent & medium

c.1000 pieces

Historical Background

This archive is by far the largest surviving body of manuscripts resulting from the life of George Richmond, RA. His professional career spans the Victorian era, beginning before the coming of the railways and ending at the dawn of the automobile.

George Richmond was born to Thomas and Ann Richmond on the 28th March 1809. A natural facility for draftsmanship revealed itself at an early age. He is one of the youngest students ever to have been admitted to the Royal Academy schools. The Academy permanent collection holds drawings made by Richmond while studying in the school of the Antique.

In 1825 he met William Blake and, along with Samuel Palmer and fellow student Edward Calvert, became devoted to the aging artist. The young men would come to refer to themselves as the Ancients. The group followed the artistic principles of Blake and worked to ideals inspired by renaissance painters, particularly Michelangelo and Dürer. The party retired to Palmer's country home at Shoreham during the late 1820's, residing together and developing their aesthetic theory. They lived simply and worked hard.

In 1831 Richmond married Julia Tatham, daughter of Charles Heathcote Tatham. The marriage was immediately central to his life and they were to have thirteen children, ten of whom survived into adulthood. The necessities resulting from such a large family compelled Richmond to change direction artistically. It was impossible to follow the eclectic road taken by the Ancients and feed all the hungry mouths. The ramifications of this situation remained with Richmond for the rest of his professional life.

Richmond was an extremely religious young man. His beliefs chimed with the growth of evangelical devotion and he found a fellow communion among the members of the "Clapham Sect". Sir Robert Inglis was an early supporter of Richmond, and benefactor to the children of Henry Thornton, one of the founders of the Clapham group. It was through Inglis that Richmond received an important commission in 1832. Richmond landed a coup in painting the great emancipator, William Wilberforce. The positive public response to this portrait established Richmond, almost overnight, with a successful portrait practice.

From the early 1830's portrait painting became Richmond's primary source of income. By the late 1830's his financial security was such that he could afford to travel to Italy with his young family and that of Samuel Palmer. Richmond's experiences in Italy are recorded in his journals, which comprise part of this archive.

Richmond rarely left Britain after a second journey to Rome in 1840-1841. He worked hard over the next forty years, painting around 2500 of the most prominent figures of Victorian society. His learning in art practice and art history led him to be considered one of the country's foremost experts on painting restoration. This discipline took on more importance for him as his energies for portrait work flagged in the 1870's and 1880's. His residence, Porch House, in Potterne, Wiltshire, was regarded as a model of sensitive architectural restoration. He declined the position of director of the National Gallery at least once, citing ill health. Health was a perennial concern of this long-lived hypochondriac.

Julia Richmond died in 1881 and from this point Richmond entered the last, relatively secluded phase of his life. His closeness to the survivors of the Thornton clan is particularly evident towards the close of his life. Richmond died in 19th March 1896; having seen his son William Blake Richmond elected a Royal Academician the year before.

Content Description

The papers form a large personal archive documenting a long and productive life. A run of diaries provides details of sitters from 1840 to 1894 with few breaks. Two small journals from the years 1826-1828 are of particular interest as they record the period during which the Ancients worked at Shoreham. Travel journals document in detail Richmond's sojourns to Italy in 1837 to 1839 and 1840.

The correspondence section of the archive comprises around 1000 items. Although there are letters from dozens of figures prominent in the history of Victorian England there are unfortunately lacunae. Most of the letters from John Ruskin have been removed and possibly sold. All of the letters from Samuel Palmer have also been removed and remain in private hands. Fortunately both series of correspondence have been published.

There is little reference to George Richmond's journey to Paris in 1828.


The papers remained in the hands of descendants of George Richmond until their sale and dispersal at an auction at Bloomsbury books in 2000. Although the Academy was fortunate enough to acquire some lots at this auction the vast majority of manuscripts were acquired by Agnews and used to support the preparation of an exhibition of his drawings.

Acquisition Details

The papers were purchased from Thomas Agnew & Sons, 2001, with substantial assistance from the Friends of the National Libraries and a gift from the Catherine Lewis Foundation.


When acquired the correspondence was in a random order but numbered 1-956. When viewed at Bloomsbury books the letters appeared roughly thrown into a box. Any eveidence of internal arrangement was destroyed when the items were catalogued by an Archivist employed by Agnews.

The letters have now been forced into chronological order when ever possible. Many letters are not dated but great efforts have been made to establish a date as narrowly as possible. One significant exception to this is the correspondence from Marianne Thornton. She never dated her letters. A significant amount of research has gone into dating her letters, but the friendship was so close that in many cases the subject matter is vague and there is not enough internal evidence to establish when they were written. Even so, the letters appear in the main to come from the last stages of her life, after the death of Julia Richmond, and so many have been placed tentatively in the 1880's.

Associated Material

The Royal Academy secured two small lots of correspondence at the Bloomsbury Books auction in 2000. The letters were from G.F. Watts and William Boxall and it is beyond doubt that they formed part of this archive prior to that sale. They are catalogued under the reference GR2.

Photographs associated with this archive are held by the Royal Academy of Arts Photographic Collection.

Manuscripts in other repositories:

Manuscripts Department, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA: General and Literary Manuscripts, #11023-z, George Richmond papers. Abstract: Correspondence between English artist George Richmond, in France and Italy, and his wife Julia, in England, about their daily lives, their children, his travels and work, and mutual friends, including John Severn and John Ruskin (there are thirty-one letters from George Richmond and fifteen letters from Julia Richmond); and scattered letters, chiefly to Richmond from friends and relatives.

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Department of Western Manuscripts. Letters to George Richmond from members of the Acland family, 1843-90, n.d. Shelfmark: MS. Eng. d. 3376. Extent: 209 leaves

Material relating to Richmond and Joseph Severn is also held at the London Metropolitan Archives.


George Richmond, by Raymond Lister; pub. Robin Garton, 1981.

The Richmond Papers, A.M.W. Stirling; pub. William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1926.