He was born in London, trained initially in Law, and after several years decided to be a painter, studying for 2 years at Cary's Drawing School, then from 1848 at the Royal Academy Schools. To improve his colouring, he then became for a short while a pupil of Holman Hunt, who had a great influence on his subsequent work, which in many cases fits squarely into the Pre-Raphaelite school. His first picture exhibited at the RA (in 1852), painted while he was in Hunt's studio, was Kit's Writing Lessons, from Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop. Various literary and genre subjects followed, of which the most important is The Last Day in the Old Home, a splendid moralistic picture with a gambler, now penniless, raising a toast to the portrait of an ancestor even while an auctioneer values the family effects. This picture was shown at the International Exhibition in 1862. Alas, his output was fairly small, smaller still excluding portraits, and he died young, of heart disease, in his early 40s.
A small exhibition was held after his death at the Cosmopolitan Club in Charles Street, Berkeley Square of some three dozen of his works. A contemporary note wrote that
'Mr Martineau's Art is what would be termed 'realistic'; but in some instances it is more than this, it is of the intense school, with those phases of change for better or worse which we see in all collections of pictures by one hand. On the works that are finished, no amount of labour has been spared. On examining the preparatory sketches, it is clear that the painter has known how to begin; but on turning to the [completed] pictures, it is not so apparent that he has known where to stop, yet withal these works show qualities of that kind which contribute to the building of great reputations.'
Works by Martineau may be seen in Manchester, and an excellent sketch of great feeling, The Poor Actress's Christmas Dinner, is in the Ashmolean.
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