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Henry Rushbury
Dates: British, 1889 - 1968
Biographical Account:

Rushbury, Sir Henry George [Harry] (1889–1968), painter and engraver, was born on 28 October 1889 at Harborne, Warwickshire, then still a country village on the outskirts of Birmingham, the younger son of G. Norbury Rushbury, a clerk, and his wife, Naomi Fennell. The father, when unsuccessfully job-hunting, used to take his son with him on visits to churches and other old buildings, thereby developing the boy's powers of observation and kindling what was to be a lifelong and essential interest in immediate surroundings.


At the age of thirteen Rushbury gained a scholarship to Birmingham School of Art, where, from 1903 to 1909, studying at first gold- and silversmith's work and later stained-glass design and mural decoration, he came under the stimulating influence of the headmaster, R. M. Catterson Smith, who encouraged the students to make quick drawings of figures in movement rather than highly finished studies of posed models, but also subjected them to the strict discipline of painting in tempera. Thus, while still very young, and despite the poverty at home, Rushbury was well equipped to perceive and record accurately his environment, particularly townscapes with people going about their daily business, which gave liveliness and scale to his works.


On leaving Birmingham, Rushbury worked in the Cotswolds for a time, as assistant to Henry Payne at St Loe's, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, making designs for stained glass and helping with a series of tempera paintings for William Lygon, Earl Beauchamp, at Madresfield Court, Worcestershire. In 1912 he settled in London, sharing lodgings in Chelsea with his friend Gerald Brockhurst, who had been a fellow student under Catterson Smith. There he met Francis Dodd, who taught him the techniques of etching and drypoint.


In 1914 Rushbury married Florence Harriet, the daughter of Herbert W. Lazell, a lay preacher. After war broke out he joined the army in 1915 and was later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. His draughtsmanship was soon put to good use and he became an official war artist, producing various documentary drawings which are now in the Imperial War Museum.


After the war Rushbury spent a few months studying under Henry Tonks at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, but soon continued a busy life of drawing and engraving which involved extensive travelling on the continent each year, particularly in France and Italy. He had first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1913 and, with scarcely a break in the sequence, continued to do so throughout his career, amassing a total of more than 200 works. Their titles alone are evidence of the broad coverage of his interests—for example, The Brewery, Sandwich (1915), Walls of Siena (1923), Quai des Belges, Marseille (1929), A Street in Gerona (1936), Stirling Castle (1946), Market, Concarneau (1955), Tenby Harbour (1962), and Orvieto (1968). Rushbury was a master of the mood of the moment—early morning, a busy forenoon, a drowsy afternoon in the sunlight, or a sultry evening. He was far more than an accomplished topographical draughtsman, for he always seemed to be able to portray the spirit of his subject.


Some of Rushbury's best work was used to illustrate Sidney Dark's Paris (1926), Rome of the Renaissance and Today (1932), by Sir James Rennell Rodd (later Lord Rennell), and Fenland Rivers (1936), by Iris Wedgwood. All three books, excellent as they are in their texts, are greatly enhanced by the clarity and warmth of the drawings, which bring the places visually to life, always maintaining the monumental qualities of the dominant subjects but setting them in the local climatic and social conditions. This was achieved not only by the artist's unerring choice of viewpoints and his skilful use of light and shade but also frequently by including human figures and their transport—as, for example (in the Rome book), The Pantheon, with groups of people chatting, carriages, and tramway cars, and Palazzo Farnese, with its horses and carts and the fountain playing.


Rushbury was fortunate to be able to depict such scenes before they were despoiled by excessive motor traffic. His output was considerable, as is evident in mixed and one-man exhibitions over a long period of years, and his works, with their blend of scholarly interest and sympathetic rendering, were extremely attractive and, in scale, very suitable for rooms of reasonable size. He also undertook a series of mural decorations for Chelmsford town hall in 1937.


Rushbury was again an official artist during the Second World War, recording the production side of the war effort. At sixty years of age, in 1949, he was elected keeper of the Royal Academy and, as head of its schools until his retirement in 1964, did much to encourage the students through his experiences and to help them to tread their own paths.


Rushbury exhibited regularly with several societies and became a member of the New English Art Club in 1917, of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers in 1921, and of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1922. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1927 and a Royal Academician in 1936 and was made an honorary associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1948. He was appointed CVO in 1955, CBE in 1960, and KCVO in 1964.


In personality Rushbury was most friendly and club-loving, being a staunch supporter of both the Arts Club and the Chelsea Arts Club. Sir Alfred Munnings said that 'Henry could charm a bird off a tree'. In appearance he was somewhat Pickwickian—short and sturdy in stature but with sharp features and alert blue eyes. He was rubicund, kindly, and an enlivening companion. He died in Lewes, Sussex, on 5 July 1968, survived by his widow (who died later that year) and their two daughters.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Henry Rushbury was elected to the Royal Academy on 11th February, 1936 and then the Senior Academy on 31st December 1964. In 1964, in the New Year Honours, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. There is a memorial to him in St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, London.,

The watercolourist, etcher and draughtsman Henry Rushbury was born in Harborne near Birmingham on the 28th October 1889.


He studied under a scholarship at Birmingham College of Art from1903 to 1909, where he specialized in stained glass design and mural decoration. He later studied for six months at the Slade School in 1921.


He became an Official War Artist for both World War I and II, in London. By the encouragement of Francis Dodd he took up etching and drypoint printing.


He became a member of the New English Art Club in 1917, also a member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers in 1921, the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1922 and the Royal Academy in 1936


Rushbury was elected Keeper of the Royal Academy in1949 and Head of the Royal Academy Schools.


He died on the 5th July 1968.

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