Biography

Douglas Fox Pitt, born in London on 17 December 1864, came from a large and well-to-do family (fig.1). His father, Augustus Lane Fox, inherited a substantial country estate and changed his name to Fox Pitt Rivers. Now called the ‘father of British archaeology’, Lieutenant-General Fox Pitt Rivers amassed a collection of anthropological and archaeological objects which formed the basis of the Pitt Rivers Museum in the University of Oxford. Douglas, the second youngest of nine children, was freed by his father’s inheritance from the necessity of earning a living but found it hard to settle to a life’s occupation. He first considered becoming an architect and attended the Bartlett School of Architecture in 1881–2 and again in 1889–90. Having also studied at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester he tried his hand at farming in Canada and South America but these ventures proved to be failures. He even attempted to join the City Imperial Volunteer unit of the army but was turned down. Around 1890 he began to experiment with painting. He was sufficiently skilled as a draughtsman to be sent to make drawing plans, elevations and sketches of thirteenth-century castles and houses as research for his father’s work as Inspector of Ancient Monuments.1
Despite studying for a short period at the Slade School of Fine Art, during which time he met the painter Harold Gilman, Fox Pitt was largely self-taught. He assiduously studied the work of other artists and began to collect modern paintings himself. Travel was an important feature of his life and he went on a number of painting tours with his close friend and fellow watercolourist, Walter Taylor. During his lifetime he travelled extensively both in Britain and on the continent and went to France, Poland, Corfu, Cyprus and Ceylon. In 1905–6 he visited Morocco in the company of Count Graf Sternberg who later wrote an account of the trip in The Barbarians of Morocco, which was published in1908. Fox Pitt contributed a preface and twelve watercolour illustrations to the publication. The book describes the people and places seen on the journey from Tangier to Fez and makes a plea for ‘Morocco to remain as she is – a land inhabited by naturally peaceful people, unspoilt by modern inventions – an artistic reserve for all those who prefer the beauties of Nature to the throb of an iron piston’.2 The watercolours are executed in loose, wet washes and use pure but subdued colours.

Nicola Moorby
March 2003

Notes