Richard Redgrave was born in Pimlico, London, and determined early on in life to be an artist. Frequent journeys on the outskirts of London gave him a love of the outdoors and a habit of sketching from nature. He also made careful studies of the Elgin Marbles. He decided to become a painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1825, and entering the Royal Academy Schools from 1826, supporting himself by teaching. His early years as an artist were difficult ones, until in 1837 he exhibited Gulliver on the Farmerís Table, which brought him to the attention of a wide audience by engravings. The Seamstress (1844) - showing a girl working late at night in her horrible bedsit - became his most popular painting. With paintings like this Redgrave became known for scenes of contemporary social life, 'scenes of pathetic and sentimental subjects' and one of the first to use contemporary clothing in pictures (e.g. The Poor Teacher, 1843) anticipating the fallen women of the Pre-Raphaelites in the 1850s and 1860s. Redgrave also preceded the other painters who became well known for pictures of poverty - Hubert von Herkomer, Frank Holl and Luke Fildes. Redgrave painted several pictures showing girls with a Pre-Raphaelite look, indoors or outside, and also rustic outdoor scenes and flower illustrations (in the 1840s). He designed some book illustrations, but these were sentimental and not of great merit. He was elected ARA in 1840 and RA in 1851, his diploma work being The Outcast, a rather histrionic expulsion of a daughter with illegitimate baby while her family weep and wail.
Redgrave was important in the organisation of the Government School of Design, established in 1847, and held several posts at the institution, in particular Art Superintendent in the Department of Practical Art (1852), in which capacity he largely organised the English system of art education. In 1857 he became Inspector General of Art and Surveyor of the Royal Collections. He catalogued the 1862 International Exhibition, and subsequently wrote A Century of Painters of the English School. He also helped in the organisation of the South Kensington Museum. From 1825 until 1880, when ill-health forced him to resign from most of his official appointments, Redgrave contributed some 175 pictures to the Royal Academy exhibitions.
Several of Redgrave's pictures are in the Sheepshanks Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, including Gulliver on the Farmerís Table, Ophelia wearing her Garlands (1842), The Thames from Millbank, Cinderella and most importantly, The Poor Teacher. As well, also in the Henry Cole Wing is Redgrave's mosaic of Donatello (1867). In the National Portrait Gallery is his self portrait. Another version of The Poor Teacher is in the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, and an Interior of a Wood is in the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford. In the Birmingham gallery is The Valleys Also Stand Thick with Corn (1864).
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