Burgess, John Bagnold (DNB01)

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BURGESS, JOHN BAGNOLD (1829–1897), painter of Spanish subjects, born at Chelsea on 21 Oct. 1829, was the son of Henry W. Burgess, landscape painter to William IV, and author of a set of large lithographic 'Views of the general Character and Appearance of Trees, Foreign and Indigenous,' published in 1827. He came of a family which had followed art for several generations. His grandfather was William Burgess (1749?–1812) [q. v.], his great-grandfather Thomas Burgess (fl. 1786) [q. v.], and he was nephew of John Cart Burgess [q. v.] and Thomas Burgess (1784?–1807) [q. v.] He was sent to Brompton Grammar School, then under Dr. Mortimer, and, his father dying when the son was ten years old, the direction of his artistic education was undertaken by Sir William Charles Ross [q. v.], the miniature painter. Burgess as a child in arms forms part of a family group by Ross, now in the possession of Mrs. Burgess. In 1848 he went to Leigh's well-known art school in Newman Street, Soho, where Edwin Longsden Long [q. v.] and Philip Hermogenes Calderon [q. v. Suppl.] were his fellow students. In 1850 he exhibited a picture called 'Inattention' at the Royal Academy, and in 1851 he entered the Academy schools, where he carried off the first-class medal for drawing from the life. He exhibited 'A Fancy Sketch' at the Academy in 1852, from which year he was an annual contributor to its exhibitions till his death.

Burgess began by painting portraits and English genre, but did not make any great mark before he went to Spain in 1868 to visit some relatives at Seville. He was accompanied by Long, who was afterwards a frequent fellow traveller. From this time forward for some thirty years Burgess visited Spain annually, and devoted his life to the study of Spanish life and character. Once at least he went over to Morocco and made sketches, but, with the exception of one or two Moorish pictures and an occasional portrait, the subjects of his pictures were henceforth almost exclusively Spanish. The first result of his visits to the Peninsula was a picture called 'Castilian Almsgiving,' which appeared at the Academy in 1859. His Spanish pictures attracted some attention, but his first great success was the 'Bravo Toro' of 1865. In this picture, as in Hogarth's well-known engraving of 'The Laughing Audience,' we do not see the spectacle, but only the spectators. These are of all classes and characters, and every face is animated with the sudden emotion aroused by some striking incident in a bull-fight. For vivid and various expression under strong excitement, this picture stands out distinctly from the rest of Burgess's works. This work was followed by 'Selling Fans at a Spanish Fair' (1866), 'The Students of Salamanca' (1867), and 'Stolen by Gipsies' (1868) (engraved by Lumb Stocks [q. v.] and C. Jeens for the Art Union). Other pictures sustained his reputation till 1873, when he exhibited 'The Rush for Water: Scene during the Ramadan in Morocco,' which was followed by another Moorish scene in 1874, 'The Presentation: English Ladies visiting a Moor's House.' Next year came 'The Barber's Prodigy,' a barber showing his customers sketches made by his son. The boy who sat for the 'prodigy' was Jose Villegas, afterwards a famous artist. 'Licensing the Beggars: Spain' (afterwards bought at a sale for 1,165l., the largest price ever paid for a picture by Burgess, and now in the gallery of Holloway College), appeared in 1877, and Burgess was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in the June of that year. It was not till twelve years after this that his name appeared in the catalogue of the Academy as R.A. elect. Meanwhile he continued his contributions, which were regular, but never exceeded three in the year. Among those of this period were some of his best pictures, 'The Letter-writer' (1882), 'The Meal at the Fountain: Spanish Mendicant Students' (1883), 'The Scramble at the Wedding' (1884), 'Una Limosnita per el Amor de Dios' (1885), 'An Artist's Almsgiving' (1886), and 'Making Cigarettes at Seville.' 'The Letter-writer' was engraved by Lumb Stocks for the Art Union, and the 'Artist's Almsgiving' was presented to the Reading Corporation Gallery by the artist's widow in accordance with his own request. The artist in this picture is Alonzo Cano, and his 'almsgiving' consists in making sketches and giving them away to the poor. After his election as a full member of the Academy Burgess painted, among other works, 'Freedom of the Press' (his diploma work) (1890), 'A Modern St. Francis' (1891), 'Rehearsing the Miserere, Spain' (1894), and 'Students reading prohibited Books' (1895). All these were scenes of Spanish life, but in his last completed picture he reverted to his own country for his subject, and painted 'A Mothers' Meeting in the Country,' now in the possession of his widow (1897).

Though to the last no failure of hand or eye was observable in his paintings, his health had for some time caused anxiety to his friends. He had from his youth suffered from valvular disease of the heart, which was hereditary, and this affection, combined with pneumonia, was the cause of his death. The knowledge of his heart trouble had much influence on his life. It was the subject of grave consideration in connection with his marriage, as no office would insure his life. But while it made him careful it did not prevent him from enjoying a good deal of exercise. He used to row at one period of his life, and in his travels he used to 'rough it' a good deal, spending days with the Spanish peasantry, living their life and sharing their food. As he could not insure he made a practice of laying by a certain proportion of his income, with the result that he was able to leave over 24,000l. for his wife and family.

He died on 12 Nov. 1897, at his house, 60 Finchley Road, London, where he had resided for the last fourteen years. His loss was keenly felt by a large circle of friends, to whom he was endeared by his kindly, unassuming, and hospitable nature. He was very popular in his profession, being kind to young students, generous to rising talent, and helpful to such local societies as St. John's Wood Art Club and the Hampstead Art Society, He was buried on the 17th of the same month in the Paddington Cemetery at Willesden, after a service at St. Mark's, Hamilton Terrace. Burgess married, in 1860, Sophia, daughter of Robert Turner of Grantham, Lincolnshire.

Among the English painters of Spanish subjects Wilkie, Lewis, Philip, Long, and others. Burgess holds a very honourable place. Whatever their relative rank as artists, there Was none of them who studied Spanish life and character more deeply or with more affection than Burgess. This is attested by his pictures, but still more by his sketches. These, nearly all of which are in the possession of his widow, are numerous and of great variety. They are also distinguished by fine draughtsmanship and finished beauty of execution. Though so industrious a sketcher, his finished pictures were comparatively few. In the course of twenty-eight years (1850-1897) he exhibited seventy-three pictures at the Royal Academy, fifteen at the British Institution, and thirty or forty at other exhibitions. But his work was always carefully prepared and thoroughly executed. His subjects were incidents in ordinary Spanish life, telling tales of humour and pathos much in the manner of Wilkie in his Scottish (not Spanish) period, and he told them very well. There is an admirable bust of Burgess by Mr. Onslow Ford, R.A.

[Men of the Time; Cat. of the Royal Academy; Art Journal, vol. xxxii.; Mag. of Art, 1882; Press notices, Times, Daily Graphic, &c., especially in November 1897; private information.]

C. M.