R. Godfrey Rivers / England/Australia 1858–1925 / (The Recital or Woman at a piano) c.1886–90 / Watercolour over pencil on cream wove paper / 23 x 13.9cm / Purchased 1983 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

R. Godfrey Rivers
(The Recital or Woman at a piano) c.1886–1890

Not Currently on Display

This watercolour is an early work in R. Godfrey Rivers’s Australian oeuvre done during the late 1880s when Rivers taught with Blamire Young and Phil May at Katoomba College in New South Wales. The composition is well resolved in the lower half of the picture and clearly demonstrates Blamire Young’s influence. The free treatment of the remainder suggests the possibility of it being a preliminary sketch for a larger work. Rivers’s draughtsmanship on large figure works is excellent.

The watercolour painting is also representative of Rivers’s consistent interest in experimentation. In common with many English artists of the period, Rivers had an eclectic approach, which in finished works reveals a careful study of sources. Influences apparent in other works, apart from Legros, include Alrecht Dürer, James Whistler, the Pre-Raphaelites, and the Australian plein airists, especially Tom Roberts.

Richard Godfrey Rivers was born in 1858 in Plymouth, England. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and exhibited at the Royal Academy before moving to Australia in 1889. Along with many painters of the Australian landscape who studied in Europe, Rivers needed to adapt his colour palette for Australia’s intense sunlight.

Rivers was Art Master at the Brisbane Technical College from 1891 to 1915, and during this time he made the adjoining City Botanic Gardens a popular outdoor painting and sketching location. His students included Bessie Gibson, Vida Lahey and Lloyd Rees.

An active member of the Queensland Art Society, he exhibited annually between 1891 and 1916, and was president of the society several times. A tireless advocate for the establishment of a public art gallery in Queensland, he was successful in persuading Premier Hugh Nelson to establish such an institution. The Queensland National Art Gallery opened in 1895, with Rivers serving as honorary secretary to the trustees. Shortly afterwards, he was appointed honorary curator. In 1915, Rivers moved to Tasmania where he died in 1925.