Richard Brydges Beechey HRHA (18081895)
Like his contemporaries George Mounsey Atkinson and Edwin Hayes RHA (1820-1904), and the later William Coulter, Richard Brydges Beechey was a marine painter of distinction, except he also became an Admiral of the British Navy and specialized in naval vessels. As well as being a fine naval artist, Richard Brydges Beechey also completed a number of oil paintings and drawings on marine subjects.
Born on 17 May 1808, he was the son of two other artists. His father was Sir William Beechey RA (1753-1839), an eminent painter and Royal Academician, who - in addition to being a fine portraitist - was also an accomplished marine artist whose works included illustrations of ports and a variety of naval scenes.
His mother, Lady Beechey, who also showed at the Royal Academy, was a talented miniaturist. His brother was the celebrated sea captain Frederick William Beechey.
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Whether he received any formal training in painting or drawing is unknown. In any event, like his brother he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 14 and spent several years at sea before returning and marrying Frideswide Maria Moore, the eldest daughter of Robert Smyth of Portlick Castle, County Westmeath, Ireland.
This was followed by further service under the colours in the West Indies and the Eastern Pacific Ocean where Beechey served under the command of his brother. He must have developed and maintained his interest in art while at sea, because in 1832, when only 24, he exhibited a number of fine marine paintings at the Royal Academy (as an honorary exhibitor), after which he spent time in Ireland as a waterway surveyor. Whilst surveying the River Shannon in the 1840s, he executed a number of detailed, topographical drawings as well as several excellent watercolours. (Source: Watercolours of Ireland, by Crookshank and Glin, 1994).
For the next 25 years Beechey devoted himself to both his naval career and his painting, eventually attaining the rank of admiral. Although no sketchbooks have been found, it seems likely that he sketched throughout his travels, as his later oil paintings appear to be retrospective views based on earlier drawings. In later life (1858-77) he showed regularly at the Royal Academy in London, where he also exhibited at the British Institution and the Society of British Artists. In addition, for many years, he exhibited marine scenes and paintings of ships at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in Dublin. In 1868 he was made an honorary member.
Most of his compositions portrayed ships in stormy conditions, a genre which, according to one art critic, prevented him from achieving the popularity commensurate with his painterly skills.
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