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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Augustus Earle

Solitude, Augustus Earle Self-portrait, 1824--marooned with his dog.
One of the pitfalls of writing is that in doing the necessary research you often run into similar individuals with similar or identical names. At times I've found myself deleting entire paragraphs when it became apparent I was writing about two different individuals. That happened to me yesterday as I was researching the rapscallion portrait painter Ralph Earl. I stumbled upon his younger contemporary, Augustus Earle (with an "e"). Augustus Earle was born in 1793, about the same time Ralph Earl left London to go back to America with his second wife. Given Ralph Earl's penchant for philandering, perhaps they were father and son, which is another tricky research element common in families where the art gene runs strong and sons followed in their fathers' footsteps.

Life on the Ocean, ca. 1815, Augustus Earle
--not just the local color, but the endless days at sea.
Like old Ralph, Augustus Earle was an itinerant artists, though definitely a cut above. His travels took him all over the world as resident artist on any number of British discovery expeditions. Like Ralph Earl, Augusts' father was an American, who added the "e" at the end of his name (perhaps to avoid confusion with Ralph Earl). There any similarities, real or imagined, end. The "art gene" ran deep in the Earle family going back several generations and Augustus was anything but an untrained artist. He trained at the Royal Academy and was exhibiting there at the tender age of thirteen. By the time he was twenty-two, he was hitching a ride aboard a Royal Navy ship (captained by his older brother) on a voyage traveling the Mediterranean. He visited and painted Gibraltar, Sicily, Malta, and North Africa returning with an impressive portfolio, which turned out to be his ticket for an extended voyage to South America, across the South Atlantic and South Indian Ocean to New South Wales (New Zealand). From there he visited India and a number of exotic South Pacific locales before returning to England in 1830.

Punishing Negroes at Calabouco, 1822, Augustus Earle
Earle's lengthy around-the-world cruise also took him to New York and Philadelphia (where he exhibited a couple pieces) as well as Rio de Janeiro, Chile, Peru and Australia. The man painted pictures like tourists today snap them. He spent three whole years in Brazil where his paintings brought to light the tortured treatment of South American slaves (above). Later he visited islands no other artist had ever seen before. On one of them, Tristan da Cunha, in the South Atlantic, he found himself marooned for some eight months (top). He made the best of it however, painting until his supplies ran out and then tutoring the children of the island's six inhabitants.

Portrait of a Bungaree Native, 1826,
Augustus Earle
In Australia Earle found himself in demand as a society portrait painter, though his natural curiosity led him inland, both there and in New Zealand, where he also painted the natives (right). Upon returning to England, all this earned him the once in a lifetime opportunity in 1832 to travel with Charles Darwin as topographical artist aboard the Beagle. However Earle's one shot at greatness was not to be. His health forced him to return to England long before Darwin ever saw Galapagos. Augustus Earle died in 1838 at the age of 45.

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