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´╗┐Title: Birket Foster, R.W.S. - Sixteen examples in colour of the artist's work
Author: Cundall, H. M. (Herbert Minton), 1848-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                     64 & 66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

                     205 FLINDERS LANE, MELBOURNE

                     ST. MARTIN'S HOUSE, 70 BOND STREET, TORONTO

                     MACMILLAN BUILDING, BOMBAY
                     309 BOW BAZAAR STREET, CALCUTTA

[Illustration: Gleaners]








                                           OWNER OF ORIGINAL

1. Gleaners                               _Barnet Lewis, Esq._

2. Going Home                                      "

3. Loch Leven Castle                               "

4. Shrine at the Entrance of the
Courtyard of the Ducal Palace,
Venice                                    _Sir Charles Seeley_

5. Entrance to the Grand Canal,
Venice                                    _Barnet Lewis, Esq._

6. Birthplace of Burns, near Ayr                   "

7. Sunset with Cattle                     _Bethnal Green Museum_

8. In Full Cry                            _Barnet Lewis, Esq._

9. Children by the Sea                    _Jesse Haworth, Esq._

10. By the Thames                         _Barnet Lewis, Esq._

11. A Surrey Cottage                               "

12. The Donkey that would not go          _Sharpley Bainbridge, Esq._

13. Passing the Flock                     _Barnet Lewis, Esq._

14. Near Godalming                                 "

15. The Blackberry Gatherers                       "

16. The Happy Time of Life                         "


The dainty water-colour paintings executed by Birket Foster probably
appeal to the majority of the British public more than the work of any
other artist.

For many years during the early part of his career he was engaged in
drawing on wood-blocks for the engraver, from which he acquired a
minuteness in detail that continued to pervade his paintings in later
life. The result was that he produced scenes from Nature with an
exactness that the most uninitiated in art are able to understand and
appreciate. The chief features, however, in Birket Foster's paintings
are the poetic feeling with which he indued them, and the care and
felicity with which his compositions were selected. These qualities
lend a great charm to his drawings, and especially to those
representing the homely scenes, so frequently selected from that
picturesque part of Surrey, where he lived for many years. He revelled
in sunny landscapes, with sheep roaming in the distance and with rustic
children playing in the foreground; he was also attracted by peaceful
red-brick cottages covered with thatch, and enlivened by domestic
scenes. It is perhaps by these rural paintings that the artist is best
known. He, however, wandered far afield in search of the picturesque;
he was an indefatigable painter, and produced works selected from all
parts of England, Wales, and Scotland. Birket Foster was especially
partial to the Northern counties and the district surrounding his
native town in Northumberland. His rambles were not confined solely to
his own country; he travelled frequently on the Continent; Venice, as
well as the Rhine, had its charms for him. The picturesque scenery of
Brittany has also been portrayed by his brush, and on one occasion he
went as far as Spain and Morocco in pursuit of his art.

Birket Foster, as he is generally known, or Myles Birket Foster, to
give him his full name, was born at North Shields on February 4, 1825.
His ancestors held good social positions for many generations in the
North Country, and were staunch members of the Society of Friends. One,
Sarah Forster, as the family name was originally spelt, married a
descendant of Margaret Fell of Swathmoor Hall, who, after the death of
her first husband, Judge Fell, was united to George Fox, the founder of
the Quakers.

In 1830 the artist's father migrated with his family to London,
voyaging all the way by sea. He took up his residence at 40 Charlotte
Street, Portland Place, and founded the well-known firm of M. B. Foster
and Sons.

Quitting school at an early age, young Birket Foster was at first
placed in his father's business; but, owing to an accident, he did not
remain long in that position.

As the youth showed a decided tendency towards art, his father
consulted a Mr. Stone, a die-engraver, with whom he had a slight
acquaintance, and it was arranged that the son should be apprenticed to
him. Before, however, the articles of apprenticeship could be signed,
Mr. Stone unfortunately committed suicide. In his dilemma the father
next sought the assistance of a fellow-townsman, Ebenezer Landells, who
at that time had established his reputation as a wood-engraver. He
offered to take the boy into his business to see whether the work would
suit him. The offer was accepted, and the day on which Birket Foster
entered Landells' office may be said to be the commencement of his
artistic career.

In 1841 Landells, in conjunction with Henry Mayhew, Mark Lemon, and
others, started _Punch_. Most of the early woodcuts for this
publication were produced in Landells' office; Birket Foster was
employed to draw and cut numerous initial letters, and on one occasion
he was entrusted to make a full-page political cartoon representing
Lord John Russell as Jack Sheppard.

When _The Illustrated London News_ was commenced by Herbert Ingram in
1842, Landells was engaged to produce many of the illustrations, and
Birket Foster was employed by him in making drawings for them. This he
continued to do for many years after he left Landells' establishment.
The most characteristic works of Birket Foster for this periodical were
the charming engravings which appeared in the musical supplements and
the Christmas numbers. He also made many drawings for _The Illustrated
London Almanack_ for 1848 and subsequent years.

At this period our artist was greatly sought after by publishers to
execute pencil drawings for wood-engravings for books, and from the
year 1847 to 1863 more than eighty different volumes, produced by
various firms, were illustrated by dainty engravings after his

After the year 1858 Birket Foster practically abandoned the drawing on
wood-blocks, and devoted himself almost entirely to water-colour
painting. He received little or no instruction in the art, and in later
years, when he was frequently pestered by persons asking him to give
them lessons in painting, he used to say that he never received any
lessons, so he never gave them, believing the best instruction to be
obtained from studying the great masters. He was a profound admirer of
Turner and Clarkson Stanfield, and it is probable that he was more
influenced by the latter's works than by those of any other artist,
especially with regard to composition. He delighted to surround
himself with paintings by these and other artists.

With regard to his method of working, Birket Foster's early training
for drawing on wood-blocks considerably influenced his water-colour
work, which was very dissimilar to the "wash" methods of the early
school of water-colour painters. He, indeed, worked with his brush as
dry as it well could be, and probably no artist in using the medium of
water-colours ever used so little water. Of course, all painting may be
said to be drawing with a brush, but Birket Foster's was practically
drawing to a peculiar degree, not washing with a brush. He used a very
fine brush with very little paint in it, and owing to his habit of
frequently putting it between his lips to make the point of it as fine
as possible, it used to be said that the paint came out of the artist's

Birket Foster worked very rapidly in his own way of obtaining the
effects he desired, and his remarkable gift for composition enabled him
to people his scenes with wonderful facility and felicity. He never
engaged a professional model; his children were all sketched from the
rustic boys and girls, whom he found in the course of his wanderings.

In 1860 Birket Foster was unanimously elected an associate of the Old
Water-Colour Society, and became a full member two years afterwards.
He greatly appreciated the honour conferred upon him, and thoroughly
gave his best interests to the Society.

He was a most prolific worker, and beside the large number of
water-colour paintings exhibited at the Old Society, to which he
contributed more than four hundred and fifty, many of his drawings were
bought by the picture-dealers straight from his studio, and in some
cases he received direct commissions for paintings from collectors.

Birket Foster, like many other water-colour artists, turned his
attention to painting in oils, and for the nine years, 1869 to 1877, he
regularly contributed oil paintings, thirteen in all, to the
Exhibitions at the Royal Academy, but after that period he abandoned
this medium, as he found that his little water-colour gems were far
more appreciated by the public. In 1876 Foster was elected a member of
the Royal Academy of Berlin.

Although the rural scenery of his native country had its peculiar
charms for his pencil, still Birket Foster was greatly attracted by the
grander views to be obtained on the Continent. His early visits were
made to the Rhine, but subsequently the Italian lakes and Venice were
his favourite hunting grounds in search for "bits" to sketch. The word
"bits" is particularly applicable in the case of Birket Foster, for he
almost invariably preferred to make a drawing of some detail rather
than a broad landscape. He used to say that the mountain scenery of
Switzerland was too panoramic and had no attractions for him. It is
somewhat remarkable that whilst he relied to a great extent on lanes
and fields, and hedgerows and rustic children, for his English
drawings, the views for his Continental paintings were largely selected
from towns with architectural details introduced into them.

The first visit made to the Continent by Birket Foster was in 1852,
when he was commissioned by a publisher, who was bringing out an
illustrated edition of "Hyperion," by Longfellow, to follow in the
footsteps of Paul Flemming, and to depict on the spot the varied scenes
amid which the poet had laid the incidents of his story. Paul Flemming,
as is well known, was Longfellow himself, and the romance was a passage
in the author's own life.

From that date Foster made almost annual tours along the Rhine and
through Switzerland, but it was not until the year 1868 that he was
first able to feast his eyes upon the beauties of Venice, and
afterwards he made numerous subsequent trips to Italy.

Our artist for many years resided at St. John's Wood, and when he took
seriously to water-colour painting he at first selected his subjects
from the fields about Hampstead and Highgate. He soon, however,
wandered farther afield, and was attracted by the picturesque scenery
of Surrey. During his wanderings in this delightful county he found
himself at Witley, near Godalming, and he resolved to have a residence

It cannot be said that Witley was "discovered" by Birket Foster, for
other artists were there before him. J. C. Hook, R.A., had already
built himself a residence and studio upon an eminence with a beautiful
view overlooking the Weald of Surrey. There can, however, be no doubt
that the genial disposition and the liberal hospitality of the owner of
"The Hill" afterwards attracted many of his fellow-artists to the

Witley station stands at a spot where the railway emerges from a deep
cutting with pine woods on either side, and at this period there were
but few houses or even cottages in the vicinity, for the village itself
lies a mile and a quarter to the northward; but Birket Foster managed
to secure the possession of a picturesque cottage called "Tigbourne,"
situated by the corner of the road leading to Hambledon at the foot of
Wormley Hill, and resided there during the summer months.

Birket Foster eventually became so pleased with the neighbourhood that
he determined to take up his permanent abode at Witley. After lengthy
negotiations, he secured a beautiful site, between Wormley Hill and the
railway station, on which he erected a house which was called "The
Hill," and finally quitted St. John's Wood. He was practically his own
architect, and residing near by at his cottage, he was enabled
personally to superintend the erection of the entire building. In order
that its newness should not offend the artistic eye, he purchased as
many weather-worn tiles off the old cottages in the neighbourhood as
possible, and placed them on the roof of his house. A great amount of
care was bestowed on the internal decorations. William Morris was
consulted, and Burne-Jones painted seven canvases illustrating the
legend of St. George and the Dragon, which formed a frieze round three
sides of the dining-room. Burne-Jones was also commissioned to make
many other designs for the adornment of "The Hill"; the decorated tiles
round the fire-places and stained glass in the windows were all
designed by him. He also painted a large screen of eight folds, upon
which were sixteen events of the life of St. Frideswide. These scenes
were afterwards reproduced in the windows of Christ Church Cathedral at

"The Hill" was an open house to all Birket Foster's friends, and
particularly to his brother-artists. He was never more pleased than
when he was entertaining his guests, and being specially fond of music,
many of the social gatherings were enhanced by musical performances.

One of the most frequent visitors was Frederick Walker, A.R.A.: he was
a special favourite, at all times welcome, and was one of the few who
had an influence on Birket Foster's painting, especially his figures.
He was in the habit of going to Witley whenever he felt inclined,
without waiting for an invitation, a bedroom known as "Freddy's room"
being reserved for him. Walker had an immense love for the place, which
he called "Paradise," and greatly regretted that he had not sufficient
money to purchase a cottage which J. C. Hook, R.A., had built near his
house, the situation of which Walker considered "romantic--such a sweep
of glorious country."

Another constant visitor was Charles Keene, the celebrated black and
white artist of _Punch_. After Birket Foster had removed from
"Tigbourne Cottage" he still rented it that he might make sure of the
presence of an agreeable and congenial occupant, and persuaded Keene to
become a tenant. Keene was greatly delighted with this retreat, of
which he wrote:--

     "The stillness here after London is delicious. The only
     sound is the ring of the village blacksmith's hammer in the
     distance or the occasional cluck of a hen, and the wind
     roars through the trees of a night, which lulls me
     pleasantly to sleep."

As may be seen by glancing through the titles of his exhibited
paintings, the neighbourhood around Witley had a great charm for Birket
Foster, and drawings made on Hambledon Common and in the village of
Chiddingfold--with their picturesque cottages roofed with thatch or red
tiles, now fast disappearing, and their leafy lanes with happy children
gathering wild-flowers, or the beautiful view from his own residence
overlooking the Surrey Weald, with Hindhead and Blackdown in the
distance and glimpses of the Brighton Downs beyond--are most
appreciated by the public, and it is by these paintings he is best

Birket Foster, as already stated, made very many tours through
different parts of England and Scotland, and although he was not what
may be termed a seascape artist, he was fond of making drawings of
children playing on the seashore. Later in life he revisited many of
the watering-places which he depicted for _The Illustrated London News_
in his early days, and instead of sketches for wood-blocks, he painted
many charming little scenes.

Another phase of Birket Foster's art was his love for painting fruit
and flowers. He was greatly attracted by William Hunt's work. As may be
expected, the same stippling in paintings by Hunt appears in works of
Foster; but whilst the former nearly always painted his fruit pieces
the same size as in Nature, the latter produced almost miniature
representations of them.

In 1893 Birket Foster was attacked by a serious illness, and yielding
to the pressure of medical advice, he was obliged to abandon much of
his work and reluctantly to give up "The Hill." He removed to
"Braeside," Weybridge, and here he resided quietly, devoting himself to
his painting as much as possible, until his death, which occurred six
years later. He was buried in Witley churchyard; a Celtic cross, with
the simple inscription, "In memory of Birket Foster. Born Feb. 4th,
1825. Died March 27th, 1899," marks the spot where lie the remains of
this great water-colour artist, who painted English landscape with such
a pure feeling and high perception of the beauty of Nature.

Birket Foster was twice married--firstly, in 1850, to his cousin, Ann
Spence, by whom he had five children, three sons and two daughters; and
secondly, in 1864, to Frances Watson, a sister to John Dawson Watson,
the well-known painter and member of the Old Water-Colour Society.

[Illustration: Going Home]

[Illustration: Loch Leven Castle]

[Illustration: Shrine at the Entrance of the Courtyard of the Ducal
Palace, Venice]

[Illustration: Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice]

[Illustration: Birthplace of Burns, near Ayr]

[Illustration: Sunset with Cattle]

[Illustration: In Full Cry]

[Illustration: Children by the Sea]

[Illustration: By the Thames]

[Illustration: A Surrey Cottage]

[Illustration: The Donkey that would not go]

[Illustration: Passing the Flock]

[Illustration: Near Godalming]

[Illustration: The Blackberry Gatherers]

[Illustration: The Happy Time of Life]

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes

Captions were added to the plates for convenience.

Italics styled text is shown within _underscores_.

Bold styled text is shown within =equal signs=.

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