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Edward Villiers Rippingille Biography

From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Rippingille, Edward Villiers (c.1790–1859), genre and portrait painter, is recorded in early dictionaries as having been born in 1798 the son of a farmer of King's Lynn in Norfolk. However, the poet John Clare, a close friend of Rippingille in the 1820s, recalled that in 1807 or 1808 he had seen a bookseller's window full of the artist's pictures in Wisbech where, he says, Rippingille was painting portraits and giving drawing lessons. In 1813 Rippingille exhibited The Ramblers at the Norwich Society of Artists and he showed Enlisting and The Cheat Detected at the Royal Academy in 1813 and 1814, respectively. The earlier birth date of about 1790 is confirmed by the obituary notice in the Art Journal (probably written by Rippingille's friend Samuel Carter Hall, the editor) in which it is stated that Rippingille ‘had almost, if not quite, reached the allotted term of life—the three score years and ten’.


By 1817 Rippingille was living in The Mall, Clifton, then just outside Bristol. Within a year he was painting portraits of local gentry, including Charles Abraham Elton (1778–1853), scholar and poet and later sixth baronet, and Dr John King (1776–1846), surgeon and friend of Dr Thomas Beddoes, Humphrey Davy, S. T. Coleridge, and Robert Southey. His first notable success came in 1819 with the exhibition at the Royal Academy of A Country Post Office (copy by the artist in Leeds City Art Gallery). The retired writer on art George Cumberland commented:


“A Mr Rippingale here has found out Bird's secret from chosen models by working with him and attending to his method of invention etc. He has done a Post office full of humour and will crop his teacher's laurels without ever thanking him or acknowledging it”. (BL, Add. MS 36514, fol. 269)


It is unlikely that Rippingille was a formal pupil of Edward Bird RA (1772–1819) and his fine and intimate portrait of Bird in his studio (priv. coll., USA) suggests a respectful friendship. In 1822 Rippingille showed The Recruiting Sergeant (Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery) at the Royal Academy where David Wilkie had created such unprecedented excitement the previous year with Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Gazette of the Battle of Waterloo. Rippingille's painting depicts a crowded village gathering at which soldiers tempt gullible young men with the king's shilling. It lacks the compositional coherence and swirling triumphalism of Wilkie's masterpiece, but it has a more sensitive observation of the variety of human character and was a biting commentary on the mistreatment of soldiers who had fought in the Napoleonic wars. It is Rippingille's most original work. On 22 March 1822 George Cumberland had written to his son in London describing the painting, as ‘a fine picture in Bird's style or better perhaps’ (BL, Add. MS 36509, fol. 42). He related that he had given Rippingille a letter of introduction to Thomas Stothard RA, and proudly noted that he was depicted in the painting. In the same letter he described Rippingille as ‘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’ (ibid.). In fact Rippingille had a wide circle of acquaintances and friends, although he exasperated many of them by his wayward behaviour. Probably through Elton he had met Mrs Emmerson, patron of John Clare, the poet.


Early in June 1822 Rippingille spent two weeks with Clare in London. They met again in late June and July 1824, visiting ale houses, prize fights, Astley's Amphitheatre, and the French Playhouse, where they both fell for a beautiful actress. With Elton they called on Deville, the phrenologist, and Rippingille took Clare to the studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence, the president of the Royal Academy who, as Clare recorded, paid Rip several fine compliments about his picture of the breakfast at an Inn and told him of his faults in a free undisguised manner but with great kindness … told him that the Royal Family … took more notice of his picture than all the rest—but Rip would not own it for he affects a false appearance of such matters. (Clare, 153–4)

The painting in question is Rippingille's best-known work, The Stage Coach Breakfast (RA, 1824; Clevedon Court, Somerset). It records, with deliberate nostalgia, Bristol's remarkable literary associations a quarter-century earlier, including portraits of Coleridge, Lamb, Southey, and Wordsworth, of Elton and his family, and of others including John Gibbons, Rippingille's patron, and of Rippingille himself ironically being offered the bill.


Rippingille reluctantly left Clare in London and hurried back to Bristol to prepare a series of lectures on art delivered at the Bristol Institution. John King noted a great drop in attendance between the first and second lectures, but an improvement in his delivery despite long-winded digressions. King had earlier lamented that ‘authorship, lecturing and music are too many pursuits to be carried on with habits of late rising etc’ (John King to John Gibbons, 18 Jan 1823, Gibbons papers). Rippingille continued to lecture—for example at Gloucester and Worcester in 1829—and his writing later much increased. His punning and salacious poem ‘Address to Echo’ was published in the London Magazine in August 1824. He founded the Artist and Amateur's Magazine. Twelve monthly numbers were produced from March 1843 with much of the content written by Rippingille. After its demise the Art Union gloated that it had been aimed too much at the professional. A series of articles by Rippingille entitled ‘Personal reflections of artists’ was published, mostly posthumously, in the Art Journal. Among them is the famous description of J. M. W. Turner on varnishing day at the Royal Academy. He wrote tales of brigands for Bentley's Magazine and appeared regularly in the role of Pictor in the Revd John Eagles's articles for Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine between 1833 and 1835. He had earlier illustrated Eagles's satirical poem Rhymes, Latin and English by The man in the moon, published in Bristol in 1826.


In the 1820s Rippingille undertook a number of ambitious historical paintings of medieval subjects, of which the finest was The Funeral Procession of William Canynge to St Mary Redcliffe, 1474 (RA, 1822; Clevedon Court). The ironfounder D. W. Acraman unsuccessfully offered it to the newly founded Bristol Institution in the hope of prompting the formation of a collection of works by Bristol artists. In 1829 the institution did acquire Rippingille's model for his sculpture Sleep, but only after insisting that the subject's bosom was covered in drapery. The subscription that had been raised to buy the finished work was directed to a commission to paint The Temptation of Christ in order to enable Rippingille to travel to Italy; neither the sculpture nor the painting, which was completed in 1836, have survived. Rippingille, who set out for Italy in 1830, got no further than Germany. He finally moved from Bristol to London in 1832, and married his long-suffering mistress, Sarah Reedman, mother of three of his seven children:


“while at Bristol it did not matter whether or not she was my wife: on leaving Bristol I knew it would be likely we shall be thrown into another sort of company and in order not to compromise my friends … I have married her”. (E. V. Rippingille to John Gibbons, 30 May 1832, Gibbons papers)


His four daughters with Mary Jellds—Mary, Olivia, Ellen, and Emma—had been baptized in St Paul's Church, Bristol, on 4 November 1825. His three children with Sarah Reedman—Fanny, Catherine, and Thornton—were baptized in the same church on 12 May 1830.


In 1832 Rippingille spent six weeks in France with the Bristol artist James Baker Pyne. By the winter of 1834–5 Rippingille's wife and family had moved there, but the artist himself was living in London with his model, a Miss Smith. In 1836 he sold the series of six paintings The Progress of Intemperance (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) for £300, perhaps prompting his journey to Italy in 1837. After stays in Paris and Florence, he arrived in Rome at Christmas at the height of the cholera epidemic and he may have remained there until 1841. In 1843 he won a prize in the Westminster Hall fresco competition, but no commission followed. He continued to exhibit regularly at the Royal Academy until 1849 and intermittently thereafter until 1857. He died suddenly at the railway station at Swan Valley in Staffordshire on 22 April 1859. Many years later his close friend S. C. Hall wrote:


“Poor wayward RIPPINGILLE! Always struggling against a conviction that fate withheld from him the greatness that was his right! … A constitutional irritability, a proneness to debate, and that which is very dangerous to artists—a liking to use the pen—stood terribly in his way; and he never fulfilled … the promise he had given in youth”. (Hall, 491)


John Clare, who had no doubts about Rippingille's genius, described him with affection as ‘a rattling sort of odd fellow with a desire to be thought one’ (Clare, 138). But it is his own words that best express both his humour and his cussedness: ‘It is a fact that has been ascertained by actual experiment, that artists will die if they are not fed’ (Felix Farley's Bristol Journal, 26 Feb 1825).


Francis Greenacre

Sources   Bristol RO, Gibbons papers, 41197 · P. Cox, ‘“A liking to use the pen”: Edward Villiers Rippingille (c. 1790–1859) and John Clare’, John Clare Society Journal, 17 (July 1998), 17–23 · F. Greenacre, The Bristol school of artists: Francis Danby and painting in Bristol, 1810–1840 [1973], 120–39 [exhibition catalogue, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, 4 Sept – 10 Nov 1973] · Art Journal, 21 (1859), 187 · The Athenaeum (7 May 1859), 614 · S. C. Hall, A book of memories of great men and women of the age, 2nd edn (1877), 491 · R. Redgrave and S. Redgrave, A century of painters of the English school, 2 vols. (1866) · E. Adams, Francis Danby: varieties of poetic landscape (1973) · B. Stewart and M. Cutten, The dictionary of portrait painters in Britain up to 1920 (1997) · [J. Clare], John Clare by himself, ed. E. Robinson and D. Powell (1996) · directories, Bristol, 1817–31

Archives   Bristol Museum and Art Gallery · Clevedon Court, Somerset · V&A NAL, letters and notes · Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool |  BL, letters to George Cumberland and others · Bristol RO, Gibbons papers, letters to John Gibbons, 41197 

Likenesses   E. V. Rippingille, self-portrait, pencil and watercolour drawing, 1811, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery · E. V. Rippingille, self-portrait, oils, 1821 (Settling the account); Sothebys, 15 July 1992, lot 161 · E. V. Rippingille, self-portrait, oils, 1822 (The artist's studio), Clevedon Court, Somerset · E. V. Rippingille, self-portrait, oils, 1824 (The stage coach breakfast), Clevedon Court, Somerset · E. V. Rippingille, self-portrait, oils, c.1830, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery · E. V. Rippingille, self-portrait, oils (The paternity suit); Christies, 21 Nov 1986, lot 69



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