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Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

(Myles) Birket Foster (1825-1899), Watercolour painter and illustrator

Watercolourist and illustrator; born 4 February 1825, in North Shields but raised in London.[1]. At sixteen entered engraving studio of Ebenezer Landells and from 1846 began working with engraver and publisher Henry Vizetelly producing The Boys’ Country Year Book(1847) as well as Longfellow’s Evangeline (1850) and Hyperion (1852);[2] first exhibited in watercolour at Royal Academy 1859; elected Associate of Society of Painters in Water Colour 1860, full member 1862; highly successful in this medium, his subjects capturing public affection and becoming highly saleable; his series ‘Pictures of English Landscape’ was engraved by George and Edward Dalziel and praised by Ruskin;[3] built The Hill 1863, a large house at Witley, Surrey, which was one of the first properties to be decorated by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. and became a popular destination for friends and fellow artists, including Frederick Walker, William Quiller Orchardson and John Dawson Watson (his brother-in-law); moved close to Weybridge, Surrey 1893, where he died 27 March 1899.

Physically he was described as ‘tall and erect’ even when elderly, ‘while his open countenance and hearty welcome quite belie the somewhat stern appearance in which his portraits always clothe him’.[4] According to the Dalziel brothers he was ‘a genuine man, kind and generous to a degree in all the ways of life’.[5] Foster himself wrote, ‘Mine has been a very uneventful life, but one that my art has made very pleasant to me.’[6]

Magdalene Keaney

Footnotesback to top

1) His father, also Myles Birket Foster (NPG D1985) was a Quaker businessman.
2) J. Reynolds 2004b.
3) J. Reynolds 2004b.
[4] Huish 1890, p.23.
5) Dalziel & Dalziel 1901, p.138.
6) J. Reynolds 2004b, as quoted from notes compiled in 1895 for the Royal Berlin Academy (Archiv der Preussischen Akademie der Künste).

Referencesback to top

Cooper 1876–83
Cooper, T., Men of Mark: A Gallery of Contemporary Portraits of Men Distinguished in the Senate, the Church, in Science, Literature and Art, the Army, Navy, Law, Medicine, etc. Photographed from life by Lock and Whitfield, London, 7 ser., 1876–83.

Dalziel & Dalziel 1901
Dalziel, G., and E. Dalziel, The Brothers Dalziel: A record of fifty years’ work in conjunction with many of the most distinguished artists of the period 1840–1890, London, 1901.

Hacking 2000
Hacking, J., Princes of Victorian Bohemia: Photographs by David Wilkie Wynfield, exh. cat., NPG, London, 2000.

Huish 1890
Huish, M.B., Birket Foster: His Life and Work [The Art Annual for 1890: Xmas number of the Art Journal], London, 1890.

McMaster 2008
McMaster, J., ‘That Mighty Art of Black-and-White: Linley Sambourne, Punch and the Royal Academy’, British Art Journal, Autumn 2008, pp.62–76.

McMaster 2009
McMaster, J., That Mighty Art of Black-and-White: Linley Sambourne, Punch and the Royal Academy, Edmonton, Canada, 2009.

Ormond 2010
Ormond, L., Linley Sambourne: Illustrator and Punch Cartoonist, London, 2010.

Reeve & Walford 1863–7
Reeve, L., and E. Walford, eds, Portraits of Men of Eminence in literature, science and art, with biographical memoirs. The photographs from life, by E. Edwards, 6 vols, London, 1863–7.

Reynolds 1984
Reynolds, J., Birket Foster, London, 1984.

J. Reynolds 2004b
Reynolds, J., ‘Foster, (Myles) Birket (1825–1899)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; online ed., October 2007.