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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Two Robert Batemans

Not comparing apples to oranges but Roses to Rhododendron.
Neither artist painted much in the way of flowers.
In researching an artist named Robert Bateman, I discovered to my surprise that there were two artists by that name. I've decided to do something I've never tried before--comparing two artists and their work. I suppose the reason I've not done something like this before is that inevitably, the problem of "apples to oranges" arises. And in many ways that's quite the case with these two artists. But in a few cases, they have done similar content, the floral items above, for example. The elder of the two, the British Robert Bateman, was born in 1842, possibly near Staffordshire in central England. He died in 1922, at the age of eighty, just eight years before the Canadian Robert Bateman was born in 1930, in Toronto, Canada. At last report, at the age of eighty-six, he is still living and working at his home near Toronto.
Despite his best efforts, it seems obvious the Canadian painter
was not cut out to be an Abstract Expressionist. These were
done when he was between 18 and 20 years of age.
Of the two, there's no doubt that the Canadian Robert Bateman is by far the more interesting, if for no other reason than the man has done a ton of work over his lifetime. The British Bateman was somewhat related to the Pre-Raphaelites, which means he was so meticulous, he barely got any work done. Because they were so different I'm not going to get into a discussion as to which was the best artist. That would come down to a matter of personal taste in any case, depending upon whether you liked religious and British genre subjects or if you preferred the wild variety of wildlife and stark, lonely landscapes of the Canadian Bateman. A sampling of some of his early work as an amateur (above) is done in a fairly loose, somewhat abstract manner during the late 1940s when such stuff was all the rage.

The upper landscape by the British Bateman reflects the horticultural
background of the father and sons, while the lower landscape is
typical of the Canadian Bateman's remote, picturesque preferences.
Mother and Child, 1880s,
British Robert Bateman.
The British Robert Bateman was the third son of James Bateman, an accomplished horticulturist and landowner, who built Biddulph Grange and its gardens, in Staffordshire. Along with his elder bro-thers, Robert graduated from Brighton College in the late 1850s. Beginning in 1863, he was a student at the Royal Academy schools. From about 1870 he was the leader of a group of artists inspired by the art of Edward Burne-Jones, and in 1901 co-founded the Society of Painters in Tempera. During his own lifetime he was highly regarded by his peers, but far from famous in the popular sense as compared to his Can-adian counterpart. His Mother and Child (left), from the 1880s is typical of his drawing style, and not too different than that of the Canadian Bateman.
The Canadian Robert Bateman and his painted friend.
While the Canadian Robert Bateman was always interested in art, he never intended to become a professional. From childhood he was fascinated by the natural world which he recorded with small drawings of all of the birds in the area of his home in Toronto. He liked to do small paintings with birds in their habitats. After a brief flirtation with abstract landscapes mentioned earlier, it was not until the mid-1960s that he changed to his present style of realism. In 1954, he graduated with a degree in geography from the University of Toronto. Afterwards, he attended Ontario College of Education. Starting in 1957, while still in his late twenties, Bateman travelled around the world with a friend for fourteen months in a Land Rover. Along the way, through Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia, Bateman painted and sketched about everything he saw.

A small sampling of the Canadian Bateman's hundreds of
wildlife paintings and prints (the ones I particularly liked)
The Canadian Robert Bateman went on to become a high school teacher in art and geography (schools love teachers with double majors). At the same time, his art continued to focusing on nature, as his work started to receive major recognition in the 1970s and 80s. He made a big hit in 1987, at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, where he drew the largest crowd ever for a living artist. The majority of Bateman's paintings are done using acrylics and have been shown in major one-man exhibitions around the world. Bateman also has had numerous books devoted to his works. After two decades as a high school teacher, he became a full-time artist in 1976.

A major sampling of he British Robert Bateman's work.
The Artist's Wife, 1886,
Robert Bateman
I can't say as I have any favorite paintings by the British Robert Bateman. There simply aren't many to pick from. Some of his more important paintings (above) include The Dead Knight, from 1870, which is also known as The Three Ravens, the title used when it was first displayed in 1868; and The Pool of Bethesda, from 1877. Along with his paint-ings, Bateman designed religious woodcuts, his work appearing in The Latin Year, The Church Service and A Century of Bibles, quite a different list than that representing the Canadian Bateman's bibliography. Robert also practiced as an architect, his most notable work being Collyers, a house near Petersfield. Robert was also noted as a naturalist, a friend of Charles Darwin, a botanical illustrator, sculptor, book illustrator, and an Italian scholar. Upon his death in 1922, Robert Bateman left a horticultural legacy, including his planting of the gardens at Benthall Hall from 1890 to1906. Much of his garden design there still exists and is now maintained by the National Trust as part of Benthall Hall.

The Robert Bateman Centre, Victoria, B.C.
Other than their decidedly different painting content, perhaps the greatest difference between the British Robert Bateman and the Canadian Robert Bateman is the fact that the latter has an entire museum dedicated to his work--the Robert Bateman Center (above) in Victoria, British Columbia. The museum houses a comprehensive collection of Bateman's paintings, as well as an active program of public events. It supports the Bateman Foundation, a non-profit organization to encourage dialogue about man's relationship to the natural world.


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