Briton Riviere was an English painter; the surname indicates his descent from a Huguenot family which settled in England in the 17th Century. The family included several painters, and so Briton Riviere was introduced to art at a young age. He studied drawing and painting at Oxford, where, incidentally, his father William Riviere had persuaded the University to introduce the study of art for undergraduates. Though he exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1858, Riviere's first real success came only in 1869, with his picture The Long Sleep, showing an old man dead in his chair, watched by his two dogs. This sort of picture was ideally suited to attract the Victorian art lover, and Prisoners (1869) and Charity (1870) were also gloomy enough to win high praise. He began to exhibit Classical paintings from 1871, with Circe and the Friends of Ulysses producing an instant success:
It was the picture which for ever fixed the place of this artist in public estimation; he may have been known and valued in the ranks of his brother painters before the wonderful pigs were produced, but it was the picture of its year and has never - being admirably engraved - been forgotten in public favour. (Magazine of Art)Daniel in 1872, Argus in the following year and the well-received Apollo of 1874 were further pictures in the same genre.
Despite these Classical pictures, Riviere did not neglect the pathetic, with a domestic drama called Come Back in 1871, All that was left of the Homeward Bound (1873) showing a shipwrecked girl clinging to a plank in the sea with, typically, a dog for company, and in 1875 War Time and The Last of the Garrison. Riviere continued to produced a mix of contemporary genre, classical and animal subjects, building besides a reputation as a fine colourist. He became ARA in 1878 and RA in 1881, his Diploma painting being an animal picture, The King Drinks.
Riviere's wife, nee Mary Alice Dobell, was also a painter.
One of Riviere's most powerful pictures on a classical theme, Prometheus, is in the Ashmolean Museum, and a small animal subject, Tick Tack, showing a puppy investigating a clock, is in the Russell-Cotes Museum. Fidelity (1869), another sentimental dog, is in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight.
Top of page