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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Briton Riviere

 Giants at Play, 1882, Briton Riviere
Naughty Boy, Briton Riviere.
In that the child appears to
be a girl, I assume the title
refers to the dog.
Very few artists have ever ended their careers having never painted at least one dog. I've probably done a dozen or two myself, which I won't post here in that I have far more fascinating paintings by the British painter Briton Riviere to highlight here and now (click on my website banner at the bottom if you're that interested). I've grown particularly adept at painting canines and their rambunctious offspring, which is to say you can usually tell most of mine from cats (probably the only animal I've painted more often than dogs). Inasmuch as I paint almost solely from photos, I can experiment all I like with poses and fidgety subject manner. I have, however, taught some of my junior high students the tricks of drawing animals from life, including dogs and cats, of course, but also rabbits, piglets, ponies, lambs, one or two other species.

Apollo Playing the Lute, Briton Riviere
Briton, Riviera, 1880,  by Philip
Hermogenes Calderon.
Briton Riviere did not start out to become a dog painter. Few artists do. He was born in London in 1840. His father and uncle were also artists, his father a university drawing master, while his uncle, Henry Parsons Riviere, was a watercolorist. One of Briton's sons, Hugh Goldwin Riviere became a portrait painter. Briton was educated at Chel-tenham College and Oxford, where he earned his degree in 1867. For his art training he was indebted almost entirely to his father. An exhibition Riviere's first paintings appeared at the British In-stitution, then in 1857 he exhibited three works at the Royal Academy. But it was not until 1863 that he became a regular contributor to the Academy exhibitions.

Una and the Lion, Briton Riviere
Aphrodite, 1902, Briton Riviere
Although quite competent as a painter of history and mythological subjects such as his Una and the Lion (above) and his work titled Aphrodite (right), from 1902, Riviere discovered he liked painting animals more than portraits. As Una and the Lion demonstrates, he had a knack for it. He especially loved painting lions. Actually, he propped up the carcass of one in his studio to serve as a model. At a time when other artists were also developing a knack for painting from photos, Riviere resisted the trend and worked from live (or dead) models exclusively. This affection for the king of beast can also be seen in the two biblical versions of Daniel in the Lion Den (below).

Riviere familiarized himself with his animal subject matter to the point of dissecting them much as did Leonardo centuries earlier.
I suppose the lion propped up in the corner of his studio began to smell bad after a few weeks. Riviere began to branch off into more domestic animals. One might guess that more than one of the geese seen below may have met the same fate as the lion. I can't imagine his drawing or painting them from life as seen in his An Anxious Moment (below). The title is somewhat ambivalent as to the cause of such avian anxiety, but one might guess Riviere's wife and seven children frequently had roast goose during the time the painting was under way.

An Anxious Moment, 1878, Briton Riviere

Very many of Riviere's paintings are undated so it would be unwise to assume that he went from lions to geese to dogs in some kind of orderly chronological progression. His discourse on drawing live animals, whatever the species, is as interesting as it is enlightening:
 "I have always been a great lover of dogs but I have worked at them so much that I've grown tired of having them about me. However, you can never paint a dog unless you are fond of it. I never work from a dog without the assistance of a man who is well acquainted with animals. Collies, I think, are the most restless dogs. Greyhounds are also very restless, and so are fox terriers. The only way to paint wild animals is to gradually accumulate a large number of studies and a great knowledge of the animal itself, before you can paint its picture. I paint from dead animals as well as from live ones. I have had the body of a fine lioness in my studio. I have also done a great deal of work in the dissecting rooms at the Zoological Gardens from time to time."

I can't disagree with any of that but I should add that cats are easier to draw from life than dogs with most domestic animals falling somewhere in between. (Cats take naps...dogs, not so much.) I always put the animal on a short leash atop a folded towel, on a tabletop, with someone holding the leash and petting or calming the animal. The room should be as quiet as possible. Then I instructed my students to draw small sketches starting in the upper left corner of their paper. If (when) the animal moves, they were to start over each time until the model returns to a position similar to an earlier sketch, at which time they should return to the earlier effort and hopefully complete at leas one good drawing. To some extent, though, the artist is at the mercy of his or her model.
Painted animals are always more captivating when interacting with humans, but beware of injecting too much sentimentality into the work. Victorian artists very sometimes did, and have been often criticized for doing so. 

Sympathy, Briton Riviere.
Too sentimental?


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