Sue Young Histories

Charles Lock Eastlake 1793 – 1865

June 29, 2010

Sir Charles Lock Eastlake RA 1793 – 1865 was an English painter, gallery director, collector and writer, Director of the National Gallery, President of the Royal Academy, President of the Photographic Society,

Charles Lock Eastlake was the husband of Elizabeth Eastlake, and a relative of William Eastlake who was an advocate of homeopathy, and a friend of Thomas Lawrence, Mary Elizabeth Clarke Mohl, Joseph Severn, Thomas Uwins,

Charles Lock Eastlake was born in Plymouth, Devon, the fourth son of an Admiraltylawyer, Eastlake was educated at local grammar schools in Plymouth and, briefly, at Charterhouse, Surrey.

Set on becoming a painter, in 1809 he became the first pupil of Benjamin Haydon and a student at the Royal Academy schools in London - where he later exhibited.

However his first exhibited work was shown at the British Institution in 1815, a year in which he also visited Paris and studied works in the Louvre (then known as the Musée Napoléon).

His first notable success was a painting Napoleon on Board the Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound (1815; now in the National Maritime Museum, London). Like many other people at the time, Eastlake had hired a boat to take him to the ship on which Napoleon Bonaparte was held captive in Plymouth harbour. He sketched him from the boat.

In 1816, he travelled to Rome where he painted members of the British elite staying in Italy including fellow artists Thomas Lawrence and J M W Turner. He also travelled to Naples and Athens.

Despite being based predominantly in mainland Europe, Eastlake regularly sent works back to London for exhibition and in 1827 he was elected a member of the Royal Academy. Three years later, he returned to England permanently where he continued to paint historic and biblical paintings set in Mediterranean landscapes.

As an art scholar, he translated Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colours, 1840) and the Handbuch der Geschichte der Malerei (Handbook of the History of Painting) by Franz Kugler. These publications and his reputation as an artist led to his nomination in 1841 to become secretary of the Fine Arts Commission, the body in charge of government art patronage.

In his On Vision and Colors, § 14, Schopenhauer praised Eastlake’s translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. “Eastlake, the painter and gallery inspector, furnished his countrymen, in 1840, with such an excellent translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s theory of color that it is a perfect reproduction of the original and reads more easily; in fact, it is understood more easily than the original.”

Having already advised the National Gallery, London on acquisitions, he was appointed the Gallery’s first Keeper in 1843, a post he later resigned to resume writing and painting.

In 1849 he married Elizabeth Rigby, an art historian and translator of German art histories, forming a formidable art history writing partnership.

Elected President of the Royal Academy and knighted in 1850, he became a notable figure in the British art establishment, being appointed the first President of the Photographic Society in 1853 and, in 1855, the first Director of the National Gallery. His directorship was marred by the signal failure of the National Gallery to fulfil the terms of the bequest of J M W Turner, his erstwhile friend.

Cambridge University awarded him an honorary degree in 1864.


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