A Dictionary of Artists of the English School/Biographical Notice of Samuel Redgrave






The eldest child of William and Mary Redgrave, was born at No. 9, Upper Eaton Street, Pimlico, on the 3rd of October, 1802. His father was at that time in the office of Mr. Joseph Bramah (the inventor of the Hydraulic press), to whom he was distantly related; but he afterwards engaged in business for himself, in partnership with Mr. Pilton, carrying out their invention of strained wire, or, as it was then called, 'invisible wire fencing.'

A family following in quick succession, Samuel, with his brother Richard, the second child, was sent early to a school at Chelsea. There they were both allowed to follow their inclination for drawing, and, under the instruction of Mr. John Powell, obtained such a knowledge of water-colour painting as was consistent with the time then given to this 'extra,' in a school course. Samuel shewed much taste, careful execution, and love for the art, which he continued to practice for his amusement and solace until late in life. On leaving school at an early age, the brothers entered a night class for the study of architecture, where they continued to practice for some years, and thus obtained a thorough knowledge of architectural drawing, perspective, construction, and design.

The difficulty of providing for a large family, owing to the hard times caused by the long wars of the beginning of the century, induced his father thankfully to accept for his eldest son, then about fourteen, a small clerkship connected with the Home Office. The place of his labours, however, was not for some years in the Home Department, but in the Old State Paper Office in Scotland Yard, since pulled down. There, alone and employed in the driest duties, his young days were passed in writing during the official hours, often bringing home extra work at which he laboured far into the night. This, however, formed for him habits of steady perseverance and precision, which he never lost; nor did it preclude him from self-improvement, since he found time to perfect the knowledge of French which he had acquired at school, to make himself well acquainted with German, and to obtain enough of the Spanish language to enable him to read and enjoy some of the best Spanish authors, besides which, as a flute player, he frequently joined his father and one or two German friends in a trio or quartet. Mention has already been made of his architectural studies, and when his brother Richard, in spite of many discouragements, determined to follow the profession of art, and in 1826 was admitted a student in the Schools of the Royal Academy, Samuel was stimulated to make an effort to study there also. He prepared a set of drawings, was entered as a probationer, and (during his annual holiday, devoted to this purpose) completed the necessary works. He was, in December 1833, admitted as an architectural student for ten years. At that time, beyond attendance at lectures, and the use of the library, there was little direct architectural teaching (a want since largely remedied), but his studentship brought him into connexion with art and artists, who, to the end of his life, formed his chief companions and friends.

It must not be supposed that these varied labours and studies withdrew his attention from his official duties—far from it. When he obtained an assured place in the Home Office, he at once began to consider how the work confided to him could be improved, or more complete information afforded. Part of his labours had consisted in annually preparing a very feeble register of Criminal Offences; this he amplified into an annual volume, registering every criminal and criminal offence, and to ensure accuracy he read up our criminal law with great attention. This was at a period when the criminal code was undergoing serious and continuous changes, and he was able to aid the movement by his careful and exact statistics, and to support or suggest alterations which the extreme severity of the English laws against crime so greatly needed. These labours met with encouragement and acceptance by the best statisticians both here and on the Continent, and it was in acknowledgment of the value of his statistical labours connected with criminal offences, that he was made a life member of the Statistical Society.

In 1836 the Constabulary Force Commission was appointed; and Mr. Redgrave was named as its secretary; much valuable information was obtained, from which the secretary drew up a most graphic report as to the many ways in which the public was preyed upon by thieves and vagrants. In May 1839 Lord John Russell appointed him his Assistant Private Secretary, and on his leaving office, he was continued as Mr. Fox Maule's till September 1841. He was also Private Secretary to Mr. Fitzroy from December 1852 to January 1855.

Later in his official life, in 1853, the Home Secretary confided to him the consolidation, with a view to extinction, of the Turnpike Trusts of the United Kingdom. This he did not hesitate to accept, and, in addition, the task of arranging an annual registration of the procedure in civil cases, as he had already done with criminal offences—a duty requiring much previous reading and study; such labour, though wholly distinct from the routine of office, he nevertheless carried out as part of his usual official work.

At the desire of the then Home Secretary, Sir G. Cornewall Lewis, Mr. Redgrave undertook to compile and codify all the duties of the Secretary of State—the authority for such duties, their use and source. This confidential volume he completed, after much research, to the satisfaction of his chief; it is entitled 'Some Account of the Powers, Authorities, and Duties of Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department.' It was printed for the use of the Home Secretary in 1852. The research incident to this work induced the author to enter upon the larger field of tracing the origin and duties of all the Government officers. This he completed in 1851; it was entitled 'The Official Handbook of Church and State,' published by Mr. Murray. It was greatly appreciated, and a second edition called for and exhausted; nevertheless, it was wholly unremunerative to its author. These severe and sedentary labours, however, told upon his constitution, and after an attack of congestion of the brain, added to heavy domestic troubles, he was advised to ask leave in 1860 to retire from the office he had held above forty years.

The object of this short memoir, however, is to relate Mr. Redgrave's connexion with art and artists, and his qualifications fof the work to which this memoir is appended. We have seen his acquaintanceship with artists by his early studies; and when, in 1842, his brother Richard, who had acted as Secretary to the Etching Club from its foundation in 1837, was obliged, from his own accumulated labours, to resign the office, Samuel succeeded him, and continued to fulfil the duties until the day of his death, this duty bringing him in constant connexion with many of the most rising artists of the day. In the International Exhibition of 1862, Mr. R. Redgrave was entrusted with getting together an historical series of the works of British painters, both in oil and water-colours. He sought the aid of his brother, who undertook the arrangement of the pictures in water-colours. Both were greatly interested in the work, and having accumulated much material as to the history of English art, they determined to embody it in a book which should serve as a continuation to Vertue and Walpole, and they jointly compiled 'A Century of Painters of the British School,' carrying on the history of art to the date of its publication in 1866. In 1867 to Mr. Redgrave was entrusted the due representation of British Art in the Paris International Exhibition, which he carried out successfully. He was for many years an active member of the Council of the Society of Arts, and became one of their Vice-Presidents. The Society appointed him their Trustee (under Sir John Soane's will) of the Soane Museum, a trust which he continued to hold until his death.

Besides these multifarious labours, he submitted, in 1865, to the Lord President of the Committee of Council on Education a proposal to form a Loan Collection of Miniature Portraits, which was accepted, and the Exhibition (opened in the June of that year) was entrusted to him to carry out.

In 1866 he aided the late Earl of Derby in giving effect to his Lordship's idea of a Loan Exhibition of Portraits of British Celebrities, extending from the earliest known pictures to the present time. The series was so ample that the Exhibition continued during three seasons.

When the Royal Academy, in the winter of 1869, determined, in the best interests of art, to continue the Exhibition of the works of deceased masters, which had lapsed with the British Institution, the Council, aware of Mr. Redgrave's administrative abilities, requested him to act as secretary to the committee formed to carry out their intentions. The first exhibition was a decided success, and he continued to fulfil the office until the appointment of a lay secretary to the general body rendered his further assistance unnecessary. All this time he was gathering materials for the 'Dictionary of Painters, Sculptors, Architects, and Engravers,' completed and published in 1874. During that year the Department of Science and Art requested him to compile a catalogue of the 'Historical Collection of British Paintings in Water-Colours,' with a short introductory preface embodying the history and progress of the art. On this work he was engaged till his lamented death, on the 20th March, 1876, and it was published towards the end of that year. Mr. Redgrave married in 1839, but lost his wife after a long illness in 1845. She left two daughters who both died before him, the younger in 1856, and the elder in 1859.

A true-hearted brother and friend, his kindly and modest nature endeared him to all who knew him, by whom his loss will long be felt. It is hoped that this short memoir will suffice to show how diligently he served the public during a life of useful labour.