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Sir Augustus Wall Callcott RA (1779 - 1844)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Augustus Wall Callcott was born in London. From a young age, his parents intended for him to pursue a musical career, following his elder brother, the composer and organist John Wall Callcott (1766-1821), and Augustus spent six years as a chorister at Westminster Abbey. In 1797 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, initially focussing on portraiture but soon turning to landscape painting in watercolour and oils.

Callcott’s landscapes quickly gained the attention of wealthy clients. Early in his career, Callcott chose not to produce faithful topographical representations in his paintings, instead preferring to create idealised landscapes or views drawing on literary themes. These had more in common with the Dutch tradition and the rustic landscapes of Gainsborough rather than the emotive realism of Turner, a friend and contemporary of Callcott. In 1805, Callcott’s painting The Water Mill was exhibited at the Royal Academy to great critical acclaim.

In the years following this success, Callcott developed a style closer to Turner’s, focussing on the atmospheric quality of the light. This new treatment of the landscape genre gained respect from his fellow painters, leading to his election as an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1806 and as a full Royal Academician in 1810.

Callcott’s bold approach to landscape painting was not without criticism, however. More conservative figures such as the connoisseur Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827) expressed opposition to the new style of painting, leading to Callcott’s decision not to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1813 and 1814. Callcott was outwardly critical of the influence of Beaumont, as a director of the British Institution, on artists and on taste.

In 1816, Callcott exhibited Entrance to the Pool of London at the Royal Academy, one of a series of tranquil marine and river scenes he produced around this time. The work established Callcott as a favourite among fashionable collectors, with a more muted – and thus acceptable – palette and style than Turner.

Callcott married Maria Graham, née Dundas (1785-1842), a writer and traveller who transformed their home in Kensington into one of the leading cultural salons of the era, attracting local and international artists, writers and politicians. With Maria’s encouragement, Callcott also travelled in Europe, spending an extended honeymoon touring Germany and Italy. This provided ample opportunity for art historical study, with the couple producing an historical volume with text by Maria and illustrations by Augustus, Description of the Chapel of the Annunziata dell‘Arena, or Giotto’s Chapel, in Padua (1835). Tragically, Maria’s ill health prevented the couple from producing further publications, with her tuberculosis taking a steep downward turn in 1831 and leaving her needing constant care.

Callcott’s study of art on the Continent elevated his status as a connoisseur and played a role in his election to the board of the Government Schools of Design in 1836, to the National Gallery’s purchasing committee in 1841 and in his appointment as Surveyor of the Queen’s pictures in 1843.

These appointments, combined with caring for his wife, meant that Callcott had little time for painting. His output declined and his works became increasingly formulaic, although he did experiment with the newly fashionable subjects of narrative genre, and many of these paintings such as Milton Dictating to his Daughters (exhibited 1840) were reproduced as popular engravings.

Callcott died at his home in Kensington Gravel Pits (in what is now Notting Hill) in 1844.

RA Collections Decolonial Research Project - Extended Biography

Callcott’s wife Maria (née Dundas, former married name Graham) was the niece of James Dundas, clerk to the Signet in Edinburgh and trustee and executor of the estate of General Sir Thomas Stirling, owner of an estate in Jamaica (see Note 1).

One of Callcott’s early patrons was Edward Lascelles, son of Edward Lascelles, 1st Earl of Harewood, who was the son of another Edward Lascelles, a collector of customs in Barbados. The middle Lascelles (who became the Earl) inherited estates in the West Indies from his cousin in 1795 (see Note 2). The younger Edward – Callcott’s patron – predeceased his father, however, so did not inherit these estates.

Notes

  1. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146642179 and https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/16773 (accessed 27 March 2022)

  2. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146638743 (accessed 27 March 2022)

Relevant ODNB entries

Brown, David Blayney. “Callcott, Sir Augustus Wall (1779–1844), painter.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 27 Apr. 2022. https://www-oxforddnb-com.lonlib.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-4397

Mitchell, Rosemary. “Callcott (née Dundas; other married name Graham), Maria, Lady Callcott (1785–1842), traveller and author.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 27 Apr. 2022. https://www-oxforddnb-com.lonlib.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-4399

Profile

Royal Academician

Born: 20 February 1779 in London, England, United Kingdom

Died: 25 November 1844

Nationality: British

RA Schools student from 30 December 1797

Elected ARA: 3 November 1806

Elected RA: 10 February 1810

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Works by Sir Augustus Wall Callcott in the RA Collection

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Works after Sir Augustus Wall Callcott in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Sir Augustus Wall Callcott in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

43 results