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Topham, Francis William (DNB00)

TOPHAM, FRANCIS WILLIAM (1808–1877), watercolour-painter, was born at Leeds, Yorkshire, on 15 April 1808. Early in life he was articled to an uncle who was a writing engraver, but about 1830 he came to London, and at first found employment in engraving coats-of-arms. He afterwards entered the service of Messrs. Fenner & Sears, engravers and publishers, and while in their employ he became acquainted with Henry Beckwith, the engraver, whose sister he married. He next found employment with James Sprent Virtue [q. v.], the publisher, for whom he engraved some landscapes after W. H. Bartlett and Thomas Allom. He also made designs for Fisher's edition of the ‘Waverley Novels,’ some of which he himself engraved, and he drew on the wood illustrations for ‘Pictures and Poems,’ 1846, Mrs. S. C. Hall's ‘Midsummer Eve,’ 1848, Burns's ‘Poems,’ Moore's ‘Melodies and Poems,’ Dickens's ‘Child's History of England,’ and other works.

Topham's training as a watercolour-painter appears to have been the outcome of his own study of nature, aided by practice at the meetings of the Artists' Society in Clipstone Street. His earliest exhibited work was ‘The Rustic's Meal,’ which appeared at the Royal Academy in 1832, and was followed in 1838, 1840, and 1841 by three paintings in oil-colours. In 1842 he was elected an associate of the New Society of Painters in Watercolours, of which he became a full member in 1843. He retired, however, in 1847, and in 1848 was elected a member of the ‘Old’ Society of Painters in Watercolours, to which he contributed a Welsh view near Capel Curig, and a subject from the Irish ballad of ‘Rory O'More.’ His earlier works consist chiefly of representations of Irish peasant life and studies of Wales and her people. These were diversified in 1850 by a scene from ‘Barnaby Rudge.’ Topham possessed considerable histrionic talent, and was in that year one of Dickens's company of ‘splendid strollers’ who acted ‘The Rent Day’ of Douglas Jerrold and Bulwer Lytton's ‘Not so bad as we seem.’ Towards the end of 1852 he went for a few months to Spain to study the picturesque aspects of that country and its people. The earliest of his Spanish subjects appeared in 1854, when he exhibited ‘Fortune Telling—Andalusia,’ and ‘Spanish Gipsies.’ These drawings were followed by ‘The Andalusian Letter-Writer’ and ‘The Posada’ in 1855, ‘Spanish Card-players’ and ‘Village Musicians in Brittany’ in 1857, ‘Spanish Gossip’ in 1859, and others, chiefly Spanish. In the autumn of 1860 he paid a second visit to Ireland, and in 1861 exhibited ‘The Angel's Whisper’ and ‘Irish Peasants at the Holy Well.’ In 1864 he began to exhibit Italian drawings, sending ‘Italian Peasants’ and ‘The Fountain at Capri,’ and in 1870 ‘A Venetian Well.’ In the winter of 1876 he again went to Spain, and, although taken ill at Madrid, pushed on to Cordova, where he died on 31 March 1877, and was buried in the protestant cemetery.

Four of his drawings, ‘Galway Peasants,’ ‘Irish Peasant Girl at the foot of a Cross,’ ‘Peasants at a Fountain, Basses-Pyrénées,’ and ‘South Weald Church, Essex,’ are in the South Kensington Museum. Several of his drawings have been engraved: ‘The Spinning Wheel’ and ‘The Sisters at the Holy Well,’ by Francis Holl, A.R.A.; ‘Irish Courtship,’ by F. W. Bromley; ‘Making Nets,’ by T. O. Barlow, R.A.; ‘The Mother's Blessing,’ by W. H. Simmons; and ‘The Angel's Whisper,’ for the ‘Art Journal’ of 1871, by C. W. Sharpe.

His son, Frank William Warwick Topham, is well known as a painter of figure subjects.

[Roget's Hist. of the ‘Old Watercolour’ Society, 1891, ii. 316–26; Art Journal, 1877, p. 176; Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1832–58; Exhibition Catalogues of the New Society of Painters in Watercolours, 1842–7; Exhibition Catalogues of the Society of Painters in Watercolours, 1848–77.]

R. E. G.