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 Myles Birket (Birkett) Foster  (1825 - 1899)



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Lived/Active: England/United Kingdom      Known for: romanticized landscape, genre and figure painting

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Birket Foster is primarily known as Myles Birket (Birkett) Foster

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Myles Birket Foster (4 February 1825 – 27 March 1899) was a popular English illustrator, watercolour artist and engraver in the Victorian period.  His name is also to be found as Myles Birkett Foster.

Foster was born in North Shields, England of a primarily Quaker family, but his family moved south to London in 1830, where his father founded M. B. Foster & sons - a successful beer-bottling company.  He was schooled at Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and on leaving initially went into his father's business.  However, noticing his talent for art, his father secured an apprenticeship with the notable wood engraver, Ebenezer Landells, where he worked on illustrations for Punch magazine and the Illustrated London News.

On leaving Landells' employ, he continued to produce work for the Illustrated London News and The Illustrated London Almanack.  He also found work as a book illustrator and, during the 1850s, trained himself to paint in watercolours.  His illustrations of Longfellow’s Evangeline and books of poetry by other contemporaries were a great success, and he quickly became a successful artist in watercolours.  Birket Foster became an Associate of the "Old" Watercolour Society (Later the Royal Watercolour Society) in 1860 and exhibited some 400 of his paintings at the Royal Academy over more than two decades.

Birket Foster traveled widely, painting the countryside around Scotland, the Rhine Valley, the Swiss lakes and in Italy, especially Venice.  In 1863 he moved to Witley, near Godalming in Surrey where he had a house ("The Hill") built.  Being friendly with Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, he had the house decorated and furnished in contemporary style, with tiles and paintings by Burne-Jones and Morris' firm, Morris and Company.  The same year he published a volume of “English Landscapes,” with text by Tom Taylor.

Although he had painted great numbers of landscape scenes from Scotland to the Mediterranean, it was after moving to Witley that Birket Foster produced the works for which he is best known - a sentimentalized view of the contemporary English countryside, particularly in the west Surrey area.  Although criticized for their idealized view of rural life, they were recognized for their detail and execution.  Birket Foster's work (along with that of other artists) was used by Cadburys, the chocolate manufacturer, on the cover of their chocolate boxes from the 1860s onwards.

He became ill in 1893 and moved to Weybridge.  He continued painting, but died on 27 March 1899.  His obituary in The Times referred to him as "certainly the most popular water-colour artist of our time". He is buried at All Saints' Church in Witley. When his father, Myles Birket Foster died, the artist son's obituary was published.

His son, Myles Birket Foster (1851–1922), was an organist who composed cantatas for children's voices and wrote a History of the Philharmonic Society, 1913.


Biography from Christie's London, King Street:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Birket Foster was highly regarded, especially for his scenes of rural life.  Throughout his career, he had studied and sketched the natural world, however, like many of his contemporaries, such as Helen Allingham, he became increasingly keen to capture what he felt was a vanishing way of life. Due to rapid industrialization and the growth of the railway, which encouraged increasing numbers of people to live in the countryside and commute into the cities for their jobs, the countryside was undergoing enormous change. 

Birket Foster almost never used models in his work, preferring to sketch figures from life and then work them up into his finished compositions, which combined with his constant exploration of nature, infused his work with an extraordinary vitality and naturalism.  In 1863, the year after he was elected a full member of the 'Society of Painters in Watercolour' (now the 'Royal Watercolour Society'), Birket Foster moved to Witley in Surrey and it was following this move that Birket Foster produced some of his finest rural subjects.

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