The Bristol School

In the early 1800s a group of artists settled in Bristol, whose work captured the landscapes of the city and defined Bristol Genre Painting

By Bristol Museums

Clifton Rocks from Rownham Fields (circa. 1821) by DANBY, FrancisBristol Museums

In 1794 Edward Bird established a Gentleman's Drawing School in Bristol, which became the centre of an informal sketching society that included patrons and amateur artists as well as professionals.

Although they did not consciously set out to develop a shared style or manifesto, The Bristol School has come to refer to a circle of artists that included Bird, Edward Villiers Rippingille, Francis Danby and more who we include in this story dedicated to The Bristol School.

Expounding the Scriptures (1819) by BIRD, EdwardBristol Museums

Edward Bird

Having trained as a japanning artist in Wolverhampton, Edward Bird moved to Bristol in around 1794. He made a living japanning while he established himself as a 'Portrait, Landscape and Historical Painter' and opened an 'evening Drawing Academy' for young gentlemen.

He befriended George Cumberland, Dr John King and Edward Villiers Rippingille, and began the sketching meetings at which the Bristol School artists met and worked together. 

Bird advanced Bristol genre painting and influenced the work of Rippingille, Samuel Colman and Rolinda Sharples. He was the first Bristol artist to become a Royal Academician.

The Recruiting Party (1822) by RIPPINGILLE, Edward VilliersBristol Museums

Edward Villieres Rippingille

Having arrived in Bristol from Norfolk in 1817, Rippingille led a chaotic life. Largely self-taught, he learnt much from Bird and was at the hub of the Bristol art scene as a member of the sketching club.

 Rippingille organised exhibitions and lectures at the Bristol Institution and was one of the only living artists to receive its patronage (along with the sculptor EH Baily).

He was an enthusiastic guitarist, and a writer who, in 1843, published 'The Artist and Amateur's Journal' as well as contributing to the Art Journal and Bentley's Magazine. 

Rippingille was a Radical.

Inn Scene (1820) by RIPPINGILLE, Edward VilliersBristol Museums

"[Rippingille] is a sour-tempered and unpolished being with little religion and little regard for anyone. He keeps no friends and his politics are radical in the extreme, but he don't want for talent in painting." - George Cumberland

View on the Avon at Hotwells (1840) by JACKSON, SamuelBristol Museums

Samuel Jackson remained in Bristol his whole life

although he traveled on excursions to the West Indies for his health, and later, in 1855 and 1858, to Switzerland) and supplemented his earnings as a drawing master and as an artist with commissions for the antiquarian, George Weare Braikenridge.

Samuel Jackson's reputation is as one of the quieter, more diligent artists of the Bristol School. Francis Danby wrote of him "...he has a genius which he has not shown".

He painted few oils but depicted the Suspension Bridge in watercolour several times, including landscape scenery commissioned by Brunel for his original four designs for the competition in 1830.

The Israelites passing through the Wilderness, preceded by the Pillar of Light (1845) by WEST, WilliamBristol Museums

William West drew with the sketching club,

but ceased painting between 1826 and 1832 to pursue other interests. He rented out the derelict windmill on Clifton Down and installed a telescope, then a camera obscura. A keen geologist, he excavated a tunnel to Giants Cave nearby, and opened it to the public in 1837.

He also involved himself in the plans for the Clifton Suspension Bridge. West returned to painting and showed his 'Israelites passing through the wilderness...' at the Royal Academy in 1845.

"[West] makes sketches at the drawing parties which delight all who see them, they are chiefly Eastern scenes, buildings, gardens, baths, fountains, subterranean scenes...

...dark interiors tastefully and ingeniously composed, illuminated by hot sun, cold moons, torchlight and all kinds of natural and preternatural light." Dr John King

The Coming of the Messiah and the Destruction of Babylon (1832) by COLMAN, SamuelBristol Museums

Samuel Colman worked in Bristol between 1816-1838

as a portrait painter and drawing master, and in 1824 exhibited at the Bristol Institution's first exhibition of the work of Bristol Artists. 
The apocalyptic themes of his religious epics and his genre painting, combined with his own history as a nonconformist, indicate that he may have had a religious patron.

A Romantic Landscape with the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (1830) by COLMAN, SamuelBristol Museums

As a nonconformist, Colman was not part of the salubrious social circle of the Bristol School artists.

The Cloak-Room, Clifton Assembly Rooms (1818) by SHARPLES, RolindaBristol Museums

Rolinda Sharples

was at her best as a chronicler of middle-class life. She was born to a family of artists and spent her childhood in America where her father James was a portraitist. On his death the family returned to Britain, settling in Bristol.

Portrait of the Artist (1814) by SHARPLES, RolindaBristol Museums

As a woman it would not have been respectable for Sharples to join the sketching party. However, she was connected to them in other ways. Sharples had been painting in oils since the age of 18 and also drew pastel portraits. 

Portrait of Mrs Ellen Sharples (1814) by SHARPLES, RolindaBristol Museums

Her mother, Ellen, had advanced views on the education of her daughter and encouraged her career as an artist. 

The Cloak-Room, Clifton Assembly Rooms (1818) by SHARPLES, RolindaBristol Museums

She made a living from painting and exhibited her work throughout the country. In 1827 the Society of British Artists elected her an Honorary Member.

Bristol Riots: The Burning of the Toll Houses, Prince Street Bridge (1831) by PYNE, James BakerBristol Museums

James Baker Pyne was initially articled to an attorney

but became an artist in about 1821, selling a landscape to the collector John Gibbons in 1826. By the late 1820s he was painting both local views and the purely imaginary landscapes typical of the Bristol School at this time.

He taught the young Müller and like his former pupil he illustrated the Bristol Riots in a series of small and atmospheric oils on card. In 1832 he went to Europe and stayed in Calais with Rippingille.

He moved to London about this time and his work became very much influenced by J.M.W. Turner. His style evolved from the poetical landscapes that characterize the Bristol School and became more typically Victorian.

The Carpet Bazaar, Cairo (1843) by MÜLLER, William JamesBristol Museums

William James Müller was born in Bristol

He was briefly apprenticed to Pyne in the late-1820s and was a member of the weekly drawing meetings in the early 1830s. At the age of 19 he witnessed the 1831 Bristol Riots, which he recorded in raw and brilliant oil and watercolour sketches. 

Müller was ambitious to succeed nationally and travelled in Europe and further afield in search of novel subjects to be worked up into oil paintings for exhibition in London. As with so many of the Bristol artists, he left the city to live in London to further his career.

The Pyramids (1843) by MÜLLER, William JamesBristol Museums

He was among the first artists to visit the Middle East and his watercolours made in response to the scenery of Egypt and Lycia in Turkey are amongst the finest in 19th-century British art.

‘I must paint to live – well then I paint one picture for the world & money – also will I paint one for myself. Let that one be for Eternity’.

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