Artist's role in national collection
ONE of Plymouth's most famous sons, Charles Lock Eastlake, is the subject of a fascinating exhibition now showing at the City Museum and Art Gallery.
Born in 1793, the son of an Admiralty law agent he attended Plymouth Grammar School under Dr Bidlake and afterwards received instruction in painting from two fellow Plymouth-born artists, Benjamin Haydon and Samuel Prout.
He also met JMW Turner on one of his many tours to the area and watched him at work in 1813.
Two years later the 22-year-old Eastlake produced his first notable work Napoleon On Board The Bellerophon In Plymouth Sound and it is said that Napoleon allowed the artist to borrow his jacket so that Eastlake could get the detailing right.
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The following year he travelled to Rome and took up residence there for 14 years. While there he met Turner there again, as well as Sir Thomas Lawrence. Becoming well known for his historical and biblical landscapes, Eastlake built up a formidable knowledge of art and art history he was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1927.
Becoming increasingly interested in the theory and evolution of painting he translated a couple of key German texts in the 1840s by Goethe (Theory of Colours) and Kugler (Handbook of the History of Painting) and in 1849 he married another art historian and translator of art histories, Elizabeth Rigby.
In the meantime Eastlake's reputation and status grew. He was elected President of the Royal Academy and knighted in 1850: then, in 1853 he was appointed the first President of the infant Photographic Society, becoming the Director of the National Gallery in 1855.
As the promotional literature puts it: "By the time he died in 1865, Eastlake had ensured that his nation possessed a picture collection of remarkable range and quality that was displayed in appropriate frames, in historical sequence and in well-lit and sympathetically decorated rooms – a legacy which continues to influence Gallery policy today.
"This exhibition will seek, against the backcloth of his Plymouth and Devon origins, to show what a significant and fascinating figure Eastlake was. The friend of great artists, distinguished politicians and royalty, the legacy Eastlake left his country, too often forgotten, will be given fresh and eloquent expression."
Featuring works that he acquired for the nation, notebooks that he used to capture ideas and images and contemporary paintings from Plymouth and Exeter, the exhibition runs through until December 15 (admission free).