William Robinson

(1799—1838) portrait painter

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Who gave lessons to Branwell Brontë. Robinson studied first under Joseph Rhodes, sen., a watercolourist in Leeds, and then in London in 1820 as a free pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830), the greatest English portrait painter of the early 19th century and president of the Royal Academy of Arts, 1820–30. He was introduced to Fuseli and other famous artists, and studied at the Royal Academy before returning to Leeds in 1823. Among his more famous sitters was the Duke of Wellington, whose portrait Robinson painted for the United Services Club, London. His self-portrait, now in Leeds City Gallery, is reproduced in BST (1985), 18. 95. 342. Despite his talent and eminence, however, Robinson died at 39 leaving his wife and six children destitute. He had exhibited at the Bradford Artists' Society of Painting and Sculpture in 1827, and at the Leeds exhibitions of the Royal Northern Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts from 1823 on, contributing fourteen paintings in 1833. The Brontës first saw Robinson's work at the 1834 summer exhibition in Leeds. Revd Patrick Brontë seems to have engaged Robinson's services soon after for a few lessons for Branwell at the Parsonage at 2 guineas a visit; and then in mid-1835 for a course of lessons at Robinson's studio in Leeds terminating on 11 September (Alexander & Sellars, p. 26). On 16 November, Mr Brontë requested a further ten weekly lessons, with the clear intention of preparing Branwell for a similar career to that of Robinson, citing the importance of anatomy in painting and his continued intention to send his son to the Royal Academy (BST1996), 21. 7. 323–6). Francis Leyland tells how Branwell stayed at an inn in Briggate for this purpose but occasionally took his master's pictures home to Haworth to copy (Leyland, 1. 174). At Robinson's studio Branwell first met fellow pupil J. H. Thompson. There is no evidence that the Brontë sisters participated in any of these lessons. Nor is there evidence of further contact with Robinson after Branwell's plans to study at the Royal Academy were abandoned and he set up his own studio in Bradford (see BST (1996), 21. 7. 323–6; Alexander & Sellars, pp. 78–9); BS (2003), 28. 2. 161–6.

From The Oxford Companion to the Brontes in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century).

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