British artist Edgar Bundy produced a wide array of vivaciously coloured and highly characterised historical genre scenes throughout his career. Painting at the turn of the 20th-Century, when modern technological and industrial progress was more fast-paced than ever, Bundy’s spirited depictions of simpler days gone by were extremely popular.
Bundy did not receive any formal arts education. It seems he was self-taught, although he had received instruction in the basics of artistic composition from a man named Alfred Stevens, most likely the artist and sculptor Alfred Stevens (1817-1875) as a child. Nonetheless, he began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London at the budding age of 19. He would not stop until his death at the age of 60. Bundy surely had talent, and as his career progressed, the fruits of his labour became ever more evident in the many exhibitions with which he was involved. He also became a member of multiple art societies, including the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists.
Bundy’s success was owed both to his lively brushwork and the subject matter to which he devoted his career. Historical genre scenes were incredibly popular in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain. A time of such industrial progress, which saw the face of the world ever-changing, also longed for reminders of a simpler, idealised time-gone-by. Popular, too, were his paintings depicting scenes of famous literature, such as the works of Charles Dickens. The rise in literacy levels, and indeed in literary publications, accrued an audience for animated depictions of Dickens’ animated characters.
Bundy often utilises a rich colour palette which seeps into his canvas and captures his characters in a lively manner. The luxurious silk of a king’s garments is awash with a near-acidic aquamarine, a verdant scene encapsulating lovers practically luminous. Such colours are reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites who had popularised the style just before Bundy’s time. Alternatively, more sombrely toned scenes offer shady shadows which cast fascination and atmosphere. An imagined scene of Vivaldi’s violin studio casts reverence upon the instrument with a beam of light, flooding through a window and into the shady room.
This vivacity soaks in further in the positioning of limbs in theatrical posturing. Figures’ intentions are made clear, and their emotions evident, in the mannerisms Bundy adopts. A forlorn lover puts a hand to her chest, heartbroken. Exhausted huntsman slump upon a plush couch, legs splayed, heads bowed. Faces, too, are characterised by a strong expression of emotion. In a scene of the dramatic fight at Dotheboy’s Hall in Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, the primal glee on the school boys’ faces twists their visages into predatory facades.
Encapsulating these elements was a painstaking attention to detail which lends a realism to his scenes. This Bundy fits to the mood of each individual painting. If a scene is more whimsical, the realism adds a sense of a reality out-of-reach, cut off by time. If a scene focuses on a more serious subject matter, it adds a gravitas that prevents his painting from becoming unbelievable.
Critics often praised Bundy for many of these elements, hailing his works as ‘distinctly characterised,’ ‘well drawn and soundly painted,’ with a ‘skilfully designed,’ manner which enabled narrative coherency. However, at times they seemed torn as to whether to perceive the theatricalities of Bundy’s works as too gaudy or stylistically suitable. Some decried his colourism as being ‘feverish,’ off-putting, and the mannerisms and expressions of his characters as ‘exaggerations and artifices.’
Nonetheless, Bundy’s success was assured with each scene he created or translated from literature. He could do serious as much as light-hearted. Later in his career he was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorial to paint a scene commemorating Canadian efforts during the First World War. Indeed, Bundy is an interesting case study of a self-taught artist rising through the ranks to become a regular of the Royal Academy and translator of a cherished past and popular literature.
Born in Brighton, Britain.
Exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy.
Became a member of the Royal Institute and the Royal Society of British Artists.
Won a medal at the Paris Salon.
Elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.
Died in London, Britain.