History Group Talk February 2014


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A Talk given by Mr Brian Portch of Chudleigh on Chudleigh's own war artist
Richard Caton Woodville (1856 - 1927)

This proved to be an interesting talk about a comparatively local artist who none of us seemed to have heard of, in spite of him being highly respected during his life.
He was noted for the standard of his epic battle scenes. He painted scenes depicting many well known regiments, their battles, officers and notable occasions within their military actions etc.
He did this in spite of the fact that he had never seen a battle or a bullet fired in anger. He painted the action from verbal descriptions of the battles given to him by those who had taken part and included some of the most notable conflicts of that era.
He commanded as much as 500 guineas a time for his paintings and there were many well known people who commissioned his work. There are in fact 21 of his paintings in the Royal Collection, most of them commissioned by Queen Victoria. Some 20 in the Royal Academy, and according to our speaker there are also examples of his work in many other collection including military museums. They are very colourful battle scenes and in 1876 he painted for the London Illustrated News, for whom he was noted a “pictorial journalist”. It has to be realised that he painted what he thought the scene would have been but as cameras became available - the cameras told the truth - war is not a pretty scene and the real horrors of war came available to the public particularly during the First World War 1915 etc, the accuracy of his works became questionable.
He did some other painting including the wedding of Princess Beatrice to Prince Henry Battenberg in 1885.
As stated Queen Victoria commissioned several paintings and he became very loyal to the Royal Family. One very famous picture was “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and by 1912 his pictures did begin to be more realistic. Another painting 1927 was “Halloween depicting the London Scottish on Messines Ridge of 1914”.
He wrote a book in 1914 “Random Recollections” this was reprinted in c2006.
He is reputed to have wasted all his money and when he died his friends had a ‘whip-round’ to bury him in an unmarked ‘pauper’s grave‘, in Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery. A few years ago there was a headstone put to his grave by the family to mark the resting place of a quite remarkable man.
Points of interest are Okehampton Council Chambers have three of his paintings and Plymouth Art Gallery has one.
In view that most if not all his paintings were done by imagination, from the descriptions given to him by those that were there and witnessed the horrors of war, one poses the question - Why are they so valuable, and why is he not better known.
We thank Brian for and interesting look at a comparatively imaginative painter with connections in high places.
 


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