In the mid-19th century, Queen Victoria, an avid dog-lover, sparked a fashion for pet portraits. It is with these and large scale sporting scenes that Richard Ansdell achieved great success during his lifetime, and established him as one of the leading animal painters of the day, comparable only to the Queen’s painter Sir Edwin Landseer.
Born in Liverpool to a block-maker, Ansdell was educated at the “Bluecoat School” for the underprivileged and later apprenticed with a portrait painter, W.C. Smith, in Chatham, Kent. Initially preparing to become a history painter, the most prestigious genre at the time, he studied nature and wildlife extensively.
At the age of twenty, Ansdell devoted himself entirely to a career in painting. In 1841 he married Maria Romer, with whom he would have eleven children, and
opened a studio in the fashionable area of Kensington in London.
Not only a critical success (he won a third class medal in Paris in 1855), Ansdell achieved great material success, no doubt helped by his prodigious output: he exhibited 149 canvasses at the Royal Academy alone. Besides acquiring a lodge on Loch Laggan in the Scottish highlands, he also built several homes in the English countryside.
Ansdell’s work is characterized by a detailed realism very popular at the time. As seen here, his animals are finely rendered, with great attention paid to anatomy and coat texture. However, perhaps the success of his work is due to the appeal of the animals themselves.
The following museums conserve works by Ansdell: Bristol, Hamburg, Leeds, Liverpool, Preston, Reading, Salford, Sunderland, the Paul Mellon Collection, and the Tate Britain.