ARTIST, FATHER OF FINE ARTS IN NEWCASTLE
Situated in the Consecrated/West Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery.
Thomas Miles Richardson Snr. was born on May 15, 1784, the eldest son of the master of St. Andrew’s Charity School, Newcastle, and as was the case with several Newcastle-born artists of his generation, his early talent for drawing meant that he was apprenticed at the age of 14 to an engraver. However, within a year, his master died and he was apprenticed again, this time to a cabinet-maker, William Pether, who unfortunately was “harsh and dissolute” and made the young man’s “time” a misery. On reaching the end of his seven year apprenticeship, Richardson duly set up as a cabinet-maker himself, but not for long as his father died in 1806 and he promptly took his father’s position at the St. Andrew’s School. Although he was poorly paid, it afforded him more leisure time where he could indulge his talent for landscape and marine painting. Eventually, in 1813, Richardson made the brave decision to give up school teaching and made drawing classes and the sale of his work his sole source of income. Richardson worked chiefly in watercolour and found most of his subjects in the scenery of the borders and the Scottish Highlands, though in later lifer he went as far afield as Italy and Switzerland.
Regarded as the Father of Fine Arts in Newcastle, Thomas Miles Richardson had the initiative in 1822 to arrange the first Fine Art Exhibition in the North of England in specially built exhibition rooms added to his home in Brunswick Place, Newcastle. His aim was to display art and encourage the rising middle class to buy and collect pictures. In order to give the exhibitions the look of a public enterprise, Richardson created an institution with a fine sounding name, the Northumberland Institution for the Promotion of Fine Arts. Its Committee included several notable local grandees, including John Dobson, Thomas Bewick, Emmerson Charnley and T.W. Keenleyside.
In 1827, Richardson and his new business partner, Henry Perlee Parker (1785 – 1873), also a leading Newcastle artist, bought a plot of land in Blackett Street, opposite the south east corner of the then newly completed Eldon Square and contracted the Newcastle developer, Richard Grainger, to proceed with a building. Designed by John Dobson, it became Newcastle’s first purpose built art gallery, a classical stone building with two recessed columns, while inside the galleries were top lit through domes in the roof. The Northern Academy of Arts, as it was called, consisted of two octagonal rooms which could, if required, be converted into one big room. Sadly, the gallery was never a commercial success, with the exhibitions of 1829, 1830 and 1831 all being disappointing in terms of critical acclaim and sales. Adding to the financial difficulties of the Academy (and Richardson and Parker), Richard Grainger decided to erect a music hall in Blackett Street, almost next door, with the result being that all of the money-making musical evenings that might have been staged at the Academy went to their new neighbours. At this point, Richardson and Parker resigned from the Academy but, unfortunately, five years later when the institution which eventually succeeded the Academy was itself bankrupted, the two artists found that they were still legally liable for the Academy’s debts, which amounted at the time to £1,700. It is said that their friendship did not survive!!
Although Richardson was always based in Newcastle, he exhibited in London at the Royal Academy (1814 – 1845), at the Watercolour Society (1819 and 1820), at the British Institution (1824 – 1826) and at Suffolk Street (1827 – 1849).
Some of his better known works include ‘View of Newcastle from Gateshead Fell’ (1816), ‘A View of the Old Fish Market, Newcastle’ (1823), ‘A View of the Side, Newcastle’ (1835) and ‘The Black Middens’ (1836).
Usherwood, Paul (1984) Art for Newcastle; Thomas Miles Richardson and the Newcastle Exhibitions 1822 – 1843. Tyne and Wear County Council Museums