Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cristall, Joshua

CRISTALL, JOSHUA (1767–1847), painter, both in oil and water colours, was born at Camborne, Cornwall, in 1767. His father, Joseph Alexander Cristall, an Arbroath man, is believed to have been the captain and owner of a trading vessel, and also a ship-breaker, having yards at Rotherhithe, Penzance, and Fowey. His mother, Ann Batten, born in 1745, was daughter of a Mr. John Batten of Penzance, and a woman of talent and education. His eldest sister, Ann Batten Cristall, was the authoress of a volume of ‘Poetical Sketches,’ published in 1795. Elizabeth, a younger sister, engraved; and both sisters were most of their lives engaged in tuition. Dr. Monro was one of his early friends. He was always very fond of art and of classical music. He began life with a china dealer at Rotherhithe, and then became a china-painter in the potteries district under Turner of Burslem, living in great hardship. He became a student at the Royal Academy, and was in 1805 a foundation member of the Water-colour Society, of which body, on its reconstitution in 1821, he was also the first president; an office which he continued to hold until 1832, when Copley Fielding became his successor. His portrait in oils, a vigorous sketch painted by himself, adorns the staircase of the society's gallery. Cristall was associated in his art career with Gilpin Hills, Pyne, Nattes, Nicholson, Pocock, Wells, Shelley, Barrett, Howell, Hassell, the Varleys, David Cox, Finch, and others, in starting the water-colour exhibition at Tresham's rooms, Lower Brook Street, in the spring of 1805. The exhibition was in 1813 transferred to the great room in Spring Gardens, and afterwards to the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. Turner, William Hunt, and Dewint, among others, about this time became members of the society. Some of Cristall's favourite sketching-grounds were in North Wales and in Cumberland. Many of his drawings in the former district are dated 1803, 1820, and 1831, and he was at work in Cumberland in 1805; and Sir John St. Aubyn, M.P., has some interesting examples of Cristall's drawings of Cornish cliff-scenery. Queen Victoria occasionally named the subject to be delineated by the Sketching Society, of which Cristall was also a founder and a prominent member; and she selected his ‘Daughters of Mineus’ as a specimen of the artist's powers. Writing to Joseph Severn in 1829, T. Uwins, R.A. (Memoirs of Thomas Uwins, 1858), observes: ‘Our old friend Cristall used to say, “the art was not so difficult as it was difficult to get at the art! the thousand annoyances and embarrassments that surrounded him perpetually, and kept him from sitting down fairly to his easel, sometimes overwhelmed him quite.”’ He was nevertheless an indefatigable worker, and was especially laborious in his delineations of nature with the black-lead pencil. He also painted some of the figures for Barrett and Robson in their landscapes.

In 1812 he married an accomplished French widow (a Mrs. Cousins), a lady of some fortune. He continued to devote most of his time to painting, and latterly, after 1821, was almost always sketching out of doors in his old districts as well as in the beautiful scenery of the Wye. He lived while in London in Kentish Town, Thavies Inn, Chelsea, Lambeth, Paddington, and Hampstead Road, and for seventeen years at Grantham Court, Goodrich, Herefordshire, returning to London after his wife's death. He died without issue at Douro Cottages, near Circus Road, St. John's Wood, London, on 18 Oct. 1847, and was buried by the side of his wife at Goodrich, where there is a monument to his memory. The whole of his works remaining unsold at his death were dispersed at a three days' sale at Christie & Manson's, commencing on 11 April 1848. Specimens of his art may be seen at the South Kensington Museum; but perhaps his finest work was the wreck scene, exhibited at the Exhibition of Old Masters in Burlington House a few years ago. They fully establish Cristall's claim to be regarded as one of the founders of the English school of water colours. Many of his pictures have been engraved, including a few of his classical compositions for the use of his pupils. Some of the latter he published at 2 Lisson Street, New (now Marylebone) Road, in 1816.

[Recollections of F. O. Finch; Literary Journal, 1818; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. i. 97, sup. 1142; Memoirs of Thos. Uwins, R.A.; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists of the English School; Letters from the President and Secretary of the Royal Water-colour Society; family correspondence and papers.]

W. H. T.