Beverley, William Roxby (DNB01)

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BEVERLEY, WILLIAM ROXBY (1814?–1889), scene painter, born at Richmond, Surrey, apparently in 1814, was youngest son of William Roxby (1765–1842), a well-known actor-manager, who, on taking to the boards, had added to his name the suffix of Beverley, from the old capital of the east riding of Yorkshire. The family consisted of four sons and a daughter, all of whom were identified with the stage—some under the name of Beverley and others under that of Roxby; of these Henry Roxby Beverley and Robert Roxby are noticed separately. Beverley at an early age developed a remarkable aptitude for drawing, and quickly turned his attention to scene painting. Under his father's management of the Theatre Royal, Manchester, in 1830, he painted a striking scene of the ‘Island of Mist’ for the dramatic romance of ‘The Frozen Hand.’ When in 1831 his father and his brothers Samuel and Robert Roxby [q. v.] took over the control of the Durham circuit, comprising Scarborough, Stockton, Durham, Sunderland, and North and South Shields, Beverley followed their fortunes, and for a few seasons played heavy comedy besides painting scenery. His work at Sunderland created a very favourable impression, although one of his predecessors there had been Clarkson Stanfield. In December 1838 he was specially engaged to paint the major portion of the scenery for the pantomime of ‘Number Nip’ at Edinburgh, his principal contribution being a moving diorama depicting scenes from Falconer's ‘Shipwreck.’ On 16 Sept. 1839 his brother, Harry Beverley, assumed the control of the Victoria Theatre in London for a short time, and there he painted for the first time in the metropolis, executing the scenery for the pantomime of ‘Baron Munchausen.’

In December 1842 Beverley was engaged as principal artist by Knowles of the Theatre Royal, Manchester. In 1845 he executed a beautiful act drop for the new Theatre Royal, Manchester, which remained in use for a quarter of a century. At the same house in June 1846 some magnificent scenery from his brush was seen in the opera of ‘Acis and Galatea.’ A little earlier in the year he had been engaged by Maddox as principal artist at the Princess's, London. In July the scenery for the revival of Planché's ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was from his brush, as were the vividly imaginative backgrounds in the Christmas pantomime of ‘The Enchanted Beauties of the Golden Castle.’ In Easter 1847 he provided a beautiful setting, with some ingenious transformations, for the revival of ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream.’ While still continuing his association with the Princess's, Beverley proceeded to the Lyceum under the Vestris-Mathews régime (1847–55), where his scenery illustrated the extravaganzas of Planché Combining, as Planché said, ‘the pictorial talent of Stanfield with the mechanical ingenuity of [William] Bradwell [the mechanist],’ Beverley achieved his greatest success in ‘The Island of Jewels’ in December 1849, when, working on a device already treated by Bradwell, he adumbrated the modern transformation scene (see the account of the Marylebone pantomime in the Theatrical Journal of 28 Dec. 1848).

In 1851 Beverley had some hand in the painting of the great diorama of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, the largest exhibited up to that time. In the autumn of the same year he accompanied Albert Smith to Chamounix, and drew sketches from which he executed his dioramic views for ‘The Ascent of Mont Blanc,’ as given by Smith at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, on 15 March 1852. His scenery at the Lyceum for Planché's ‘Good Woman in a Wood’ (Christmas 1852), and for ‘Once upon a time there were two Kings’ (Christmas 1853), was enthusiastically spoken of by discriminating critics like George Henry Lewes and Professor Henry Morley.

While still engaged at the Lyceum he was in 1853 appointed scenic director at the Italian opera, Covent Garden, in succession to Thomas Grieve [q.v.] . There he was painter for ‘Rigoletto’ on 16 May, and for many years provided the scenery for the chief operas produced under Gye's rule.

Beverley's memorable association with Drury Lane began under E. T. Smith in 1854, and lasted, with few intermissions, through the successive managements of Falconer, Chatterton, and Sir Augustus Harris, down to 1884. Season after season he executed work of marvellous beauty for the pantomimes at this house. But for some years he continued to work for other theatres at the same time. In the Christmas of 1855 he provided almost all the scenery for the holiday entertainments both at Drury Lane and at Covent Garden. In December 1862 his brush was employed to excellent advantage on the Princess's Theatre pantomime of ‘Riquet with the Tuft.’ At Drury Lane during the next few years he furnished the mounting for several important Shakespearean revivals, notably for ‘King John,’ ‘Henry IV, Part I,’ and ‘Macbeth,’ as well as for an elaborate production of ‘Comus.’ Between 1868 and 1879 his services appear to have been exclusively devoted to Drury Lane. In October 1868 he painted some capital views of London in Jacobean times for Halliday's ‘King o' Scots;’ and in September 1873 he provided backgrounds for a spectacular revival of ‘Antony and Cleopatra.’ In June 1874 he painted some picturesque scenery for Balfe's opera, ‘Il Talismano,’ and a little later did equally good work for ‘Lohengrin.’ In September 1876 he was responsible for the scenery for ‘Richard III’ at Drury Lane, in October 1880 for ‘Mary Stuart’ at the Court Theatre, and in the following December for the Covent Garden pantomime of ‘Valentine and Orson.’ In March 1881 Beverley provided the scenery for ‘Michael Strogoff’ at the Adelphi. In this play still-life accessories were, for the first time on the British stage, adroitly arranged in harmony with the background, after the manner of the French cycloramas. At the same house in March 1883 he painted for the ‘Storm-beaten’ of Mr. Robert Buchanan, and in the October following for the opera of ‘Rip Van Winkle’ at the Royal Comedy.

In 1884 Beverley painted a panorama of the Lakes of Killarney, which was an integral feature of G. R. Rowe's play of ‘The Donagh’ at the Grand Theatre, Islington. Besides working in the same year for the Savoy and the Princess's he furnished a portion of the scenery for ‘Whittington and his Cat’ at Drury Lane at Christmas, and next year was one of the painters for ‘Aladdin’ there.

Meanwhile Beverley had not neglected the better recognised modes of pictorial art, in which water-colour was his favourite medium. Between 1865 and 1880 he exhibited twenty-nine pictures in the Academy, most of them seascapes. His last picture seen there, ‘Fishing Boats going before the Wind: Early Morning,’ was exhibited in 1880.

On the death of his brother, Robert Roxby, in 1866, the theatres of the old Durham circuit passed into Beverley's hands, and monetary losses were the result. After 1884 failing eyesight led to enforced idleness. He died at Hampstead on Friday, 17 May 1889. At the Haymarket on 30 July 1890 a morning performance was given for the benefit of his widow.

After Clarkson Stanfield, Beverley was the most distinguished scene painter of the nineteenth century. Not only did he excel in the practice of his art, but he assisted materially in its development. He interpreted the charm and mystery of atmospheric effects with exceptional success by his original method of ‘going over’ the cloth upon which the previously applied distemper was still wet. The last of the old school of one-surface painters, he was proficient in all the mechanical resources of the stage, but was resolutely opposed to the scene ‘builders.’

[Information from Mr. Hugh R. Roddam of North Shields; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Theatrical Journal, vols. viii. xii. and xiii.; Dibdin's Annals of the Edinburgh Stage; The Recollections of J. R. Planché; Morley's Journ. of a London Playgoer; Stirling's Old Drury Lane; files of the Illustrated London News; Williams's Some London Theatres Past and Present; Barrett's Balfe; Dutton Cook's Nights at the Play; The Dramatic Essays of G. H. Lewes; Era Almanack for 1873 and 1874; Magazine of Art for 1888, 1889, 1895, and 1897; files of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle.]

W. J. L.