Artist biography

English painter, illustrator and collector. He was apprenticed to a wood-engraver. Foster also provided designs for Punch and the Illustrated London News. In 1846 he set up on his own as an illustrator. The rustic vignettes of the seasons established him as a charming interpreter of the English countryside and rural life. During the 1850s his designs were much in demand. His range was limited, however, and he was criticised for relying on the same rural imagery regardless of the nature of the text.

Foster's book illustration culminated in Pictures of English Landscapes. Intent on establishing himself as a watercolour painter, he stopped accepting further commissions for book illustrations in 1858. His watercolour technique, with its reliance on stippling rather than broad washes, reflects his experience in designing for wood-engraving. His work was appreciated as being Pre-Raphaelite in detail, without the harshness of colour and the unorthodox compositional formats that rendered the Pre-Raphaelites' work disturbing. Foster's watercolours proved even more popular than his illustrations.

In 1860 Foster built The Hill, in Witley, Surrey; this became a social centre for a group of artist friends.

While rural England was the inspiration for much of his work, Foster travelled regularly on the Continent, gleaning material for publications and watercolours.

In 1893 illness forced Foster to sell The Hill together with most of his collection of pictures. He moved to a smaller house in Weybridge, Surrey, where he continued to paint until his death.

Bibliography
H. M. Cundall: Birket Foster, RWS (London, 1906)
F. Lewis: Myles Birket Foster (1825–1899) (Leigh-on-Sea, 1973)
J. Reynolds: Birket Foster (London, 1984)

SCOTT WILCOX

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