Birket Foster was the most celebrated Victorian watercolour painter of rustic scenes. He painted in a stippled technique with great technical skill. His work is not Pre-Raphaelite, but he was a friend of Burne-Jones and Morris, who decorated his new house in Witley, Surrey, in the mid 1860s.
Foster was born in North Shields, came to London as a child and at the age of sixteen was apprenticed to Ebenezar Landells, a leading wood engraver. He worked first as an engraver for Landells, which gave him a habit of precision and a sound understanding of the medium's potential. Then he worked as a draughtsman under Henry Vizetelly, where he began to illustrate books. In 1846 he set up as an independent illustrator, because he was already becoming famous as a draughtsman of rural scenes. His most celebrated illustrated book, Pictures of English Landscapes (1863), with verses by Tom Taylor, he conceived as a showcase. It contains thirty full page wood engravings, cut by the Dalziel Brothers. But Foster was already gaining a far higher reputation as A watercolourist. He began to exhibit in 1859 and was elected Associate of the Old Watercolour Society in 1860 and full Member in 1862. In the course of his exhibiting career, he showed some four hundred works at the Old Watercolour Society's galleries and his watercolours were also extensively exhibited by London dealers, particularly Agnew's and Dowdeswell's. In fact his work was so popular with the public that dealers virtually fought to purchase it and used to race each other from Witley Station to his home when he had work to sell. A comprehensive recent study of the artist is by Jan Reynolds (Batsford 1984).
Cundall, H.M. Birket Foster RWS. London: A. & C. Black Ltd., 1906.
Hardie, Martin. Water-colur Painting in Britain III. The Victorian Period. Ed. Dudley Snelgrove with Julian Mayne and Basil Taylor. London: Batsford, 1968.
Lewis, Frank. Birket Foster. Leigh on Sea: Lewis, 1973.
Reynolds, Jan. Myles Birket Foster. London: Batsford, 1984.
Spielmann, Sir Isidore. Souvenir ofthe Fine Arts Section, Franco-British Exhibition 1908. London: Bernrose and Son, 1908.
Last modified 28 December 2001