Although born close to Norwich in 1833, George Henry Boughton emigrated to America with his parents as an infant, where he lived in Albany, New York. Self taught as an artist, Boughton began exhibiting in America during the 1850s, before travelling in Europe and finally settling in London in 1862. The following year he submitted two pictures for exhibition at the Royal Academy, Through the Fields and Hop-Pickers Returning, beginning a long period of annual submissions to the institution, which totalled 87 paintings at the time of his death in 1905. Boughton was elected an Associate of the RA in 1879 and a Royal Academician in 1896. His diploma work – Memories (1896) – is still in the collection at the Royal Academy.
Boughton's subjects included landscapes, portraits, historical scenes and contemporary genre, painted in England, Scotland, France and Holland. Examples of his work are now in The Fitzwilliam Museum, Glasgow Museums, Museums Sheffield, and a number of other collections. Boughton was a master of the winter landscape, effectively communicating the impression of cold and snow, yet also capturing a human element through the careful placement of figures against this backdrop, resulting in a number of striking compositions.
Boughton was also an illustrator and contributed throughout his career to publications such as Harper’s Monthly Magazine and the Illustrated London News. In the 1870s, he commissioned the architect Richard Norman Shaw to design ‘West House’, a home in the fashionable Holland Park area of London. By this stage Boughton was a leading figure amongst the community of American expatriate artists in the city; in 1889, the artist and his work were described by the novelist Henry James:
Mr Boughton bristles, not aggressively, but in the degree of a certain conciliatory pertinacity, with contradictious properties. He lives in one of the prettiest and most hospitable houses in London, but the note of his work is the melancholy of rural things, of lonely people, and of quaint, far-off legend and refrain.
An entry on Boughton, detailing portraits of the artist throughout his lifetime, can be found on the Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue, accessed via the National Portrait Gallery’s website.
Elizabeth Heath , Former Art UK Paintings Project Coordinator