Robson, George Fennel (DNB00)
ROBSON, GEORGE FENNEL (1788–1833), watercolour painter, one of the twenty-three children of John Robson (1739–1824) by his second wife, Charlotte, eldest daughter of George Fennell, R.N., was born at Durham in 1788. His father, a wine merchant, was of an old family of Etterby, near Carlisle, and his mother was descended from Irish protestants who fled from Kilkenny at the time of the ‘Irish massacre’ in 1641. His father encouraged his inclination for art, which was early shown by his copying the cuts in Bewick's ‘Quadrupeds,’ and he received his first instruction in drawing from a Mr. Harle of Durham. In 1806 he went to London with 5l. in his pocket, and succeeded so well that he returned the money to his father in less than a year.
He began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1807, and published in 1808 a print of Durham, the profits of which enabled him to visit Scotland, where he wandered over the mountains, dressed as a shepherd, with Scott's ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’ in his pocket. In 1810 he began to exhibit landscapes in the Bond Street gallery of the Associated Painters, of which short-lived society he was a member. The fruits of his journey north, which inspired him with the beauty of mountain scenery, were first shown at the exhibition of 1811, to which, and to that of the following year, he sent drawings of the Trossachs and Loch Katrine. In 1813 he began to exhibit with the Society of Painters in Oil and Watercolours, and in 1814 published ‘Scenery of the Grampians,’ which contained forty outlines of mountain landscape, etched on soft ground by Henry Morton after his drawings. The volume was published by himself at 13 Caroline Street, Bedford Square, and was dedicated to the Duke of Atholl (a coloured reprint was published in 1819). From 1813 to 1820 he contributed, on the average, twenty drawings annually to the Oil and Watercolour Society's exhibition, mostly of the Perthshire highlands, but comprising scenes from Durham, the Isle of Wight, and Wales. At the anniversary meeting on 30 Nov. 1819 he was elected president of the society for the ensuing year.
When the society (now the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours) in 1821 again excluded oil-paintings, he was one of the members by whose extraordinary efforts the exhibitions were maintained, and contributed twenty-six drawings to the exhibition of that year. His devotion to the society did not cease till his death. Between 1821 and 1833 he exhibited 484 works, or more than thirty-seven on the average annually. His drawings, besides those of the Scottish highlands and of English cities, included views of the English lakes and Lake Killarney, Hastings, the Isle of Wight, and other places, principally in Berkshire and Somerset. Of the ‘Picturesque Views of the Cities of England,’ published by John Britton [q. v.] in 1828, thirty-two are by Robson. In this year he bought a drawing, by Joshua Cristall [q. v.], from ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream,’ cut out the groups, laid them down on separate sheets of paper, and got other artists, including George Barret the younger [q. v.], to paint backgrounds to them. He exhibited two of these ‘compositions’ as the joint work of Cristall and Barret, which naturally offended Cristall and caused a temporary estrangement between him and Robson. From 1829 to 1833 he worked with Hills, the animal painter, occasionally giving a reference from Shakespeare in the catalogue, but he had no dramatic power. His special gift lay in the poetical treatment of mountain (especially Scottish) scenery under broad effects of light and shade. In to these he infused a romantic spirit akin to that of Sir Walter Scott. Among his most successful drawings were ‘Solitude, on the Banks of Loch Avon’ (1823), and a ‘Twilight View of the Thames from Westminster Bridge’ (1832). The chief defect of his work is monotony of texture. A drawing by him of ‘Durham, Evening,’ sold at the Allnutt sale in 1886 for 283l. 10s.
Robson was an honorary member of the Sketching Society, but a weakness of sight prevented him from drawing at their evening meetings. A meeting of the society to say farewell to Charles Robert Leslie [q. v.] on his departure for America was held at his house, 17 Golden Square, on Thursday, 22 Aug. 1833. On the following Wednesday he embarked on the s.s. James Watt, to visit his friends in the north, and was at Stockton-on-Tees on the 31st, suffering from inflammation, caused, it is supposed, by the food on board. He died at his home in London on 8 Sept., and was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary-le-Bow in his native city of Durham.
A portrait of Robson, after a drawing by J. T. Smith, will be found in Arnold's ‘Magazine of the Fine Arts’ (iii. 194). There are several of his drawings at the South Kensington Museum.[Roget's ‘Old’ Watercolour Society, which contains list of engravings after Robson's drawing; Memoirs of Uwins; Mag. of Fine Arts, iii. 194, 366; Bryan's Dict. (Graves and Armstrong); Graves's (Algernon) Dict.; Redgrave's Dict.; Redgrave's Cat. of Watercolour Paintings in the National Gallery.]