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 Robert Bateman  (1842 - 1922)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom      Known for: painting

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Heloise and Abelard
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
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.

Robert Bateman (1842-1922)

He was one of a group of young artists who came to prominence in the 1860s, devoting themselves to literary subjects and poetic landscapes which represent a significant aspect of the emerging Aesthetic movement.  Since he was a man of private means who could afford to work slowly, his oeuvre is small (only thirty-two pictures are recorded and far fewer known to survive) and was for long shrouded in obscurity.  Bateman's work is notoriously eccentric and often refers to the Renaissance masters, whom he had studied on visits to Italy and Spain in the early 1860s.  Both tendencies are characteristic of his masterpiece, The Pool of Bethesda of 1876-7 (Yale), while it would be hard to find a quirkier picture than Plucking Mandrakes, a watercolour of 1870 (Wellcome Institute, London).  Almost as weird is a watercolour sold at Christie's, London, on 28 November 2000 (lot 43), quaintly entitled Reading of Love, He being by (1873).  As late as 1965 The Pool of Bethesda passed through Christie's with an attribution of Richard Beavis (same initials), while the whereabouts of Heloise and Abelard were unknown to Amanda Kavanagh when she published the picture in 1989.  Only in recent years has Bateman acquired a higher profile, partly as a result of Kavanagh's pioneering article, partly because examples of his work have appeared in two major London exhibitions: The Last Romantics, held at the Barbican Art Gallery in 1989, and The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910, which followed at the Tate Gallery in 1997. 

The third son of James Bateman, a distinguished horticulturist and landscape gardener, Bateman entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1865 and showed six works at the R.A. between 1871 and 1889.  But his true spiritual homes were the two galleries that served as showcases for Aesthetic values, the Dudley, which opened in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in 1865, and the Grosvenor, a much grander and more prestigious affair in Bond Street that held its inaugural exhibition in 1877.  It is with the Dudley that Bateman is particularly associated.  In his autobiography, An Artist's Reminiscences (1907), Walter Crane described him as 'having the leadership' of a 'clique' of young artists who showed there and were inspired by the works that Edward Burne-Jones was currently exhibiting at the Old Water-Colour Society.  Thinking particularly of The Merciful Knight (Birmingham), unveiled in 1864, Crane recalled how these pictures had revealed to him and his friends 'a magic world of romance and pictured poetry, peopled with ghosts of "ladies dead and lovely knights", - a twilight world of dark mysterious woodlands, haunted streams, meadows of deep green starred with burning flowers, veiled in a dim and mystic light'.  In addition to Bateman and Crane himself, the group included Henry Ellis Wooldridge, later an eminent musicologist and Slade Professor at Oxford; Edward Clifford, remembered today chiefly for his graceful society portraits and copies after the early works of his hero, Burne-Jones; Theodore Blake Wirgman, who made his name in the 1880s by drawing celebrities for the Graphic; the landscape painter Edward Henry Fahey; and Alfred Sacheverell Coke, who specialized in classical themes and designed tile-work for the grill-room in the St James's Restaurant, built in Piccadilly in 1875 on the site of what is now the Meridien Hotel.  The work of these and other Dudley artists was perceived as having a definite ethos, rich in mood and romantic sentiment but far from academically sound.  Hence the phrase 'a poetry-without-grammar school' that Emily Pattison coined when discussing the Dudley's 1869 exhibition in the Westminster Review.  Crane quoted the phrase in his Reminiscences, and it is still current today.

Bateman was a man of imposing appearance, well over six foot tall, and his wife, born Caroline Octavia Howard, the daughter of a Dean of Lichfield, was equally prepossessing.  On their marriage in 1883, they settled at Benthall Hall, a sixteenth-century mansion near Much Wenlock in Shropshire, moving about 1910 to Nunney Delamere, at Frome in Somerset.  At both houses Bateman followed the example of his father and created notable gardens.  Indeed in later life he became a truly protean figure, extending his interests to sculpture, architecture and scholarship, while 'always experimenting', as Crane puts it, 'in methods and mediums'.  He perfected a modelling material which he called 'plasma Bentellesca' (after Benthall Hall) and was a founder member of the Society of Painters in Tempera in 1901.  A devoted husband, he died only five days after his wife in August 1922, aged eighty. 

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