Percy Robertson, RA (1868-1934)

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Percy Robertson was born on 6th May 1868 at Bellagio in Italy, the second son of Alice Mary and Charles Robertson RWS. His father was a well-known artist and is renowned for his paintings of Middle Eastern and Cairene scenes. I have not as yet discovered the date of marriage of his parents, but given that his father was 24 at the time of his birth, and the eldest son was born in the previous year, it is likely to have been between 1864 and 1866. I know Charles was born in 1844 and Alice Mary was 80 when she died in 1916, giving her year of birth as 1836. The five sons were as follows:

Charles Lonsdale Born 13th February, 1867
Percy Born 6th May, 1868
Claude William Born 10th September, 1869
Adrian van der Meulen Born 22nd December, 1870
Roland Sydney Born 19th April, 1876

These dates of birth have been obtained from the records of Charterhouse School, where they were all educated. Obviously this does not list if any sisters were born; that would be possible given the 6-year gap between Adrian and Roland.

I am uncertain of the family's movements prior to their move to Godalming. From various accounts of Charles' career it appears that they lived on the continent before moving to Walton-on-Thames, and then to Godalming, but no dates are given.

By looking up in the Town Register for the various years, it can be seen that the family moved to Godalming between the years 1880 (when they are not listed) and 1883 (when they were). Unfortunately as no volumes for 1881 and 1882 exist, this cannot be tracked down. However, as presumably the move to the town and the entry of the boys to Charterhouse virtually coincided, it is likely that they arrived in late 1880 as Charles (Junior) joined Charterhouse in the Long Quarter of 1881. Percy himself entered Charterhouse in the Long Quarter of 1883 at the age of 15. In 1884 he won the Leech Prize for Drawing, showing his talent at an early age. He left at the end of the Long Quarter in 1885 aged 17.

The family address in Godalming was Meadrow House, Meadrow, Farncombe. The house still stands today, next to the Almshouses on Meadrow, and there is a blue plaque on the wall to commemorate the fact that Charles lived there.

Percy studied art initially under his father, but later under M.W. Ridley and for a short time under Professor Fred Brown at Westminster.

I think he worked as an artist from leaving school, and exhibited at the principal London galleries from 1887, including the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers in 1887. In the Artists Directory of that year he was listed as still living in Godalming, along with father Charles. The address was given as Meadow House, Godalming, a reasonable mistype of Meadrow House. In 1887 he also exhibited a painting at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. He appears to have painted and etched in the Surrey area from this time until he married in 1905. He was probably in touch with the various artistic circles active in the area. Many of his etchings and drawings were published in the Art Journal, the Magazine of Art, The Studio, and possibly other publications. Works published in the Art Journal are

Year Subject Medium
1889 Harrow Etchings & Drawings
1890 Winchester Etchings & Drawings
1891 Guildford from St. Katherine's Hill Etchings
1892 Isle of Wight Etchings & Drawings
1898 Godalming Etching
1899 Shere Etching
1905 Albury Etching
1908 Abinger Hammer Etching
1909 Walton Heath Etching

Those published in the Magazine of Art are

Year Subject Medium
1893 Great Yarmouth Etching
1984 Shere Etching

The etchings published in The Studio, Winter 1915/16 are

Buckingham Palace
The Customs House
The Tower of London
Waterloo Bridge
The Towers of Westminster
Staple Inn, Holborn
The Victoria Embankment

Three etchings were also published in The Studio, 1919, but I have been unable to lay my hands on a copy yet.

Two collections of his work are known to have been published. The first was a portfolio entitled "Surrey Landscapes", and contained 10 etchings. It was published by J.S. Virtue & Co Ltd but was unfortunately undated, and was limited to 500 impressions. The other collection, also entitled "Surrey Landscapes" but sometimes refered to as "Surrey Views", was also published in a portfolio by the same publisher, and contained 16 etchings and a booklet describing them. This edition was also undated and limited to 50 sets.

He exhibited paintings in London from 1887, notably at the Royal Institute, and thirteen paintings at the Royal Academy from 1890 to 1904. These included "A Wet Day, Whitby", "In East Anglia" and "The Castle Rocks, Lynton".

His art of this period was typically country scenes etched or painted in detail. Most possess a distinct photographic quality. While he lived and painted around Godalming, he appeared to delight in riding around the countryside on his bicycle.

A painting of The Barbican, Plymouth is dated 1891, suggesting he was there in that year. (It also says "Goldalming" on the back, so he presumably still lived there.) I have also seen a painting of Plymouth by his father, painted in that year, suggesting a family holiday there. Charles (Senior) died on 10th November 1891, leaving the home to Alice Mary. Percy remained and continued painting and etching, not only in the immediate locality, but all over the country. For example, there is a watercolour of Bass Rock, just outside Edinburgh, painted in about 1894.

Around 1901, there was a local debate in the Goldalming area regarding the old Bridge at Eashing and its preservation. There seems to have been some commotion in the Art World regarding this. Certainly Wilfred Ball RE etched/painted it and published the image. Percy may have joined in as there is an etching by him significantly entitled 'The Bridge' (rather than 'Eashing Bridge').

He married Edith Helen Nash (known as 'Nelly') in 1905, presumably in Hampstead as that was where her family lived. Initially they lived in Maidenhead Thickett (again an artistic circle was active around there, I believe) but they soon moved to London. (Family legend has it that his wife did not get on with the mosquitoes!!) His address was then 1, Clifton Hill Studios, London NW8. I would tentatively place this move to be in 1907 or 08.

His move to London also heralded a change in subject. He now concentrated on London street and Thames riverside scenes. He particularly liked what were then crowd scenes and wet roads. However his favourite landmarks appear to have been the Houses of Parliament with Westminster Bridge and Saint Paul's Cathedral. Both paintings and etchings now appear to be less distinct and sharp in detail in the middle and background but still his old crisp detail in the foreground; the whole combining to give an exceedingly good impression of London. In the period he executed both watercolour and etching and on occasions produced exactly the same scene in both mediums. I know of two such examples, Piccadilly Circus and The Staple Inn, Holborn. However, great similarities exist in views of the Pool of London and Westminster Bridge, and undoubtedly there are more.

He was elected to full Membership of the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers in 1908. In London he appeared to work as a commercial artist, he certainly had a commission for watercolours from the Civil Service Supply Association, and may have produced etchings of London for postcards (These are unsigned, but my Grandmother kept them saying they were his work, but as the publishers no longer exist, sadly this cannot be verified). I also have a feeling that one of his etchings that I have seen I had previously seen as a book illustration.

Two of his brothers served in the Great War having embarked on their own military careers, and Percy produced etchings of London landmarks at this time showing troops in the Capital.

In 1921, the project to produce Queen Mary's Dolls' House was put forward, and all members of the Royal Academy and other bodies were invited to submit a picture for inclusion in the House. Percy etched a miniature scene of the Houses of Parliament. This etching is in the collection at Windsor, which is housed in the drawers in the Library of the Dolls' House. Various other impressions of this plate exist around the family.

Towards the end of his career, his style again changed to become less detailed and more impressionistic. Now much of the peripheral detail is left out to give interesting shapes to the effect rather than a rectangular picture. In this style, he produced a sketchbook of over 180 watercolours of the Thames valley.

Around 1924 he retired and Nelly and he moved to a house in Sheen Common Drive in Richmond. I believe he owned a motorcycle and was very keen on driving it around the countryside. He became increasingly deaf in later life and consequently more reclusive. He died on 5th January 1934 aged 65. I am unsure of where he is buried. His wife lived on at Richmond until her death in 1950.

J.S. Maas & Co of New Bond Street London held an exhibition of his work entitled "The Thames Seventy Years Ago" between 3rd and 21st June 1974. This consisted mainly of the watercolours from the sketchbook referred to above individually framed.

A painting of his, "A Wet Evening on Westminster Bridge", was sold at Philips for £720 in 1983. This may be the print that is available from Kingfisher Prints.

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