Imitation of Nature - Frederick Robert Lee

An exhibition of works from regional and national collections exploring the work of Barnstaple's most successful artist.

By The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

River Taw and the Railway, Bishop's Tawton, near Barnstaple, Devon (1968) by Frederick Richard LeeThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

Frederick Richard Lee, born in Barnstaple in 1798 was the town’s most successful painter, and the only one to be elected to membership of the Royal Academy. A highly popular artist, Lee's landscapes sold well all over the country, however today he is relatively unknown.

View from the River, Barnstaple, Devon (1824) by Freddrick Richard LeeThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

After studying at the Royal Academy in 1818, Lee lived in Kent for many years. Returning to Devon in the 1840s he produced romanticised landscapes of Devon. These works, some held in our collections, show a varied and expressive side to Lee’s practice. 

River Taw and the Railway, Bishop's Tawton, near Barnstaple, Devon (1968) by Frederick Richard LeeThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

Frederick Lee was a prolific landscape painter with over 300 known works held in international organisations and private collections. His commercial success however led to criticism from Royal Academician John Constable who remarked that Lee’s paintings were simply an 'Imitation of Nature”.             

West Lyn, Lynton, Devon by Freddrick Richard LeeThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

Lee’s work however was highly valued at the time for its “truth and simplicity”, and his talents were sought out by his contemporaries Thomas Sidney Copper and Sir Edwin Landseer to provide backgrounds to their paintings.      

Frederick Richard Lee (1798-1879) by Henry Perronet BriggsThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

Frederick Lee became an elected member of the Royal Academy in 1838. Returning to North Devon in 1858 his later years were spent between his house in Pilton, sailing his yacht 'Linda' and visiting his farms in South Africa. He died in 1879 and was buried near Wellington in South Africa.

West Lyn, Lynton, Devon by Freddrick Richard LeeThe Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

Lee established himself as a major figure in the English landscape painting world and although not a leader in the field, his talents were evident from Copper and Landseer’s commissions. This exhibition hopes to shine a light on Barnstaple’s only Royal Academist and looks to place him once again amongst the celebrated artists of his time    

[Frederick Richard Lee] [Frederick Richard Lee] (1860s) by John and Charles WatkinsThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

“We have always expressed a high opinion of Mr Lee’s talents; and this noble picture, which places him at once in the foremost rank of English landscape painters, confirms all our hopes of him. It is utterly devoid of trickery, or affectation, or extravagance; and is as fine a specimen of firm masterly painting as we have ever seen.”   The Literary Gazette.             

Credits: Story

The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon wishes to thank the organisations and private lenders who contributed to this exhibition. The display consisted of distinguished works loaned from Royal Academy, Tate, RAMM, The Amelia at the Amelia Scott, London Guildhall, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and the V&A. The exhibition catalogue is available from the museum shop.  

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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