I’m thrilled to be appearing (under my UK stage name, Nigel Dunbar) as Sir William Blake Richmond, R. A. in the forthcoming production of A Victorian Eye, a new play by Rory Fellowes, at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre from July 30 to August 17, 2013.
A Victorian Eye is a portrait of WBR in old age as he reflects on his life and work, including his masterpiece – the mosaics that decorate the quire of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Rory has kindly supplied some background to the play and his fascination with its subject:
Sir William was one of the leading English artists of the 19th Century. He was a brilliant draughtsman, painter and sculptor, and a traveller who constantly returned to Italy, Greece and North Africa in search of the colours and the light.
He was most famous in his day for his portraits for all the great families of England including the Royal Family, as well as some of the most eminent men and women of his time, among them Charles Darwin, William Gladstone, Prince von Bismarck, Holman Hunt, Florence Nightingale and Robert Louis Stevenson. He also painted several vast panoramas based on Greek mythology and landscapes. He sculpted, most famously the memorial to William and Catherine Gladstone and The Athlete in St. Peter’s Square, Hammersmith.
His long and distinguished career culminated in the greatest commission any artist in England might have wished for, the decoration of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a masterpiece that took him thirteen years of demanding research, hard labour and intense difficulties of finance and public opposition.
But as he worked, everything he stood for in Art was set aside by the sudden surge into Modernism, led then by the Post-Impressionists, his bitterest rivals in a world that no longer recognised his ideals or appreciated his skills. After a lifetime of national renown, Sir William Blake Richmond R.A.’s career ended in disappointment.
Sometimes using Sir William’s own words and otherwise dramatising his thoughts and experiences as he recorded them, Rory’s play sets out to restore his reputation. Nowadays few could name the artist who created the mosaics in St. Paul’s Cathedral.