Alfred Hitchens Corbould was a British painter of portraits and informal equestrian studies.
Stemming from a family line of distinguished artists, Alfred Corbould pursued his own path to much acclaim. His rugged depictions of aristocratic pursuits were favoured by both ‘old’ and ‘new’ money leading to a prosperous career and multiple Royal commissions.
The artistic legacy of the Corbould Family begins with Alfred’s great-grandfather, George Corbould (1725-1766). A banker by day, this upstanding gentleman began engraving in his spare time and, unbeknownst to him, lit the torch for several future generations.
His son, Richard Corbould (1757-1831), studied his father’s work and soon became a significant draughtsman. Illustrating copies of ‘Robinson Crusoe’, which reached a wide audience. He was noted by the press as ‘one of the great illustrators of literature’ with critics questioning why anyone ‘would choose to purchase any other’ edition. Richard also produced classical Italianate landscape paintings in oil, which were popular with the landed gentry.
Richard’s son, Henry Corbould (1787-1844), matched his father’s achievements by also becoming a draughtsman of some repute. Studying under Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), he worked within a remarkable circle of academic artists, such as Benjamin West PRA (1738-1820) and produced elegant illustrations for wealthy patrons. Numerous works by Henry Corbould reside in the British Museum. He also designed the ‘Penny Black’ postage stamp depicting Queen Victoria in profile akin to a marble bust.
Henry somehow found the time to father nine offspring - with at least two becoming artists, Edward Henry and Alfred Hitchens. Alfred was born in 1821, a twin.
One would imagine that it should be easier for a fledgling artist to gain a foothold when blessed with such a plethora of artistic forebears. Yet, while it’s true that young Alfred would’ve benefited from an established circle of patrons, he also had to contend with the burden of expectation. And to compound this, there’s inevitably an element of rivalry between siblings.
Early in life, Alfred and his twin brother Henry were sent to a boarding school in Bayswater for their education. Scant information remains about their time there, aside from one report detailing a brief escape.
“There are vivid recollections of three small runaway boys - Charles*, Henry and their friend Alfred - escaped from school for one whole glorious day, with pocket money lavished on a dinner of steak and vinegar, and a whip of workable proportions.
Communication affected at once by the lady-principal with the parents in Great Coram Street, but without result, until a voluntary return was made towards evening; and then the glory of a day quenched in tears, as one by one they discovered the very workable proportions of their own lash.”
*Charles Samuel Keene (1823-1891) progressed to become a successful artist.
During these early years, Alfred developed an interest in equestrian activities and often sketched horses alongside his formal studies. To further his development, he spent time at Tattersalls Sale Ring, Newmarket, in Suffolk, where he gained ample opportunity to study the horses for sale at auction. Tattersalls is the main auctioneer of racehorses in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Following on, in around 1844, he began studying under the masterly hand of John Frederick Herring Sr. (1795-1865) - well admired for his exquisite depictions of equestrian subjects. Clearly enamoured with this opportunity, Alfred produced a portrait of his tutor in 1847.
From this point on, his days were filled with commissions, and the press began to take note.
“Mr Corbould’s handling is broad, rich, and glowing.”
“If he spurns the abjectness of following in the steps of others, he cannot fail to take a leading position in British art.”
Members of the aristocracy were particularly generous, with works produced for numerous notable figures including Charles Sabine Thellusson of Brodsworth Hall in Yorkshire and later, Edward, the Prince of Wales (who became King Edward VII). His work for the latter depicts the Prince’s pony, Caspar, his retriever Duck, and John Burgess, a groom. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy and displayed at Sandringham.
Eager to present the right impression, particularly after his Royal commission, he built a substantial Tudor-Gothic style home in Kensington, which became a gallery and studio. Here, he met with various patrons to discuss potential commissions while also showing his work. In a letter we’ve unearthed from 1866, he refers to a forthcoming appointment:
“I shall be painting during this week for the most part at my old studio, bottom of Victoria Road called Eldon Lodge which might be more convenient for you otherwise I shall like you to see the sketches I have here.”
His writing style is most obliging and grateful, with a friendly tone adopted throughout. This may seem obvious but it wasn’t always the case with Victorian artists as some were terse at times, almost resentful of yet more work. Alfred’s kind demeanour was a double-edged sword as, on one hand, it served him well within the right circles, yet on the other, it made a rod for his own back.
For instance, with portrait commissions, a degree of control needs to be retained by the artist to manage a client’s expectations and whims. If an artist bends over backwards, the result is often a convoluted affair dragged out over several months with the end result a messy compromise of overpaint and frustration. In an obituary, a reporter refers to this very point.
“Had he understood managing his human clients as well as he painted them, he would long since have occupied a very high rank, both as an animal and portrait painter, for he was a thorough artist."
Throughout Alfred’s career, his brother Edward Henry Corbould (1815-1905) was also establishing a firm foothold. Known primarily as a draughtsman, he’s noted for tutoring Queen Victoria’s children. Training at the Royal Academy, Edward developed a long and fruitful relationship with the Royal Family over 20 years. Although, at times describing it as a prison sentence.
In 1867, a studio wing was added at Alfred’s Eldon Lodge and the two worked in the same environment. It’s interesting to consider how often they collaborated, particularly on commissions. And also whether they got along.
Alfred Hitchens Corbould died at his home on 5 December 1874 while working on another piece for Edward, Prince of Wales. He exhibited around 36 works at the Royal Academy and was a popular member of London’s artistic community. Two of his sons, Alfred Chantrey Corbould (1852-1920) and Walton Corbould (1859-1919) also became artists.
Sculpted above the door of Alfred’s red-brick Eldon Lodge is a motto “Qui invidet minor est”. He who envies is inferior.
Born to Henry Corbould, who worked at the British Museum, and his wife Mary Corbould (née Pickles).
Sent to a boarding school in Bayswater, London.
Developed his drawing skills by sketching the horses at Tattersalls Sale Ring, Newmarket, Suffolk.
Probably debuted at the Royal Academy under the name Alfred Corbould with ‘Retriever and Wounded Pheasant’. He exhibited circa 36 works in total.
Studied under John Frederick Herring Sr. (1795-1865).
Married Mary Grace Keene. The couple would have five children including artists Walton Corbould and Alfred Chantrey Corbould.
Work completed on his new home, Eldon Lodge, London.
Undertook a commission for Edward, Prince of Wales.