My Favourite Painting: Tim Hands

Tim Hands chooses a wonderfully warm portrait of one of the most loved thinkers of the Victorian era.

Tim Hands on his choice of The Rev John Keble, by George Richmond

‘Richmond’s portraits, with their distinctive highlights, beautifully reflect the visionary gleam of Victorian idealism. This portrait of John Keble, with its additional sense of the magical, unaffected integrity of a scholar, teacher, poet and priest — a nonpareil, whose every word was considered a brilliant or a pearl — is one of his best.

‘There are engravings in many collections, not least in the Senior Common Room of Oriel College, Oxford, where Keble and his colleagues, Newman and Thomas Arnold among them, shaped the principles of early-Victorian educational and religious reform. What people, what a period and what a portrait .’

Dr Tim Hands is headaster of Winchester College

John McEwen on George Richmond and The Rev John Keble

George Richmond and the Rev John Keble (1792–1866) were staunch High Churchmen of the 19th-century’s religious revival. Keble was a leading light of Tractarianism, also called the Oxford Movement, preaching the restoration of pre-Reformation liturgical and devotional rites. It led to Anglo-Catholicism and, in the case of the now canonised St John Newman, conversions to Roman Catholicism.

Richmond, the son of a professional miniaturist painter, entered the Royal Academy Schools at 15. He was a member of his friend Samuel Palmer’s idealistic brotherhood of ‘Ancients’, which sought a revival of Arcadian innocence with biblical and Vergilian undertones, much influenced by the artistic visionary William Blake. From middle age, as a Royal Academician, Richmond was best known for portraits of notable contemporaries.

Keble was the son of a country vicar. Educated at home, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he was a brilliant undergraduate. He entered the Church and, despite his Tractarian importance, shunned ‘power and influence’ to become a rural curate like his father, whom he subsequently cared for with his sisters.

The Christian Year, his book of poems for Sundays and feast days, became the 19th century’s most popular poetry book. It provided the Church with a number of hymns, too.

Richmond’s much admired talent for drawn portraits met a worthy sitter in Keble, described by one contemporary as having ‘one of the most beautifully formed heads in the world’ and ‘brilliant, penetrating eyes which lighted up quickly with merriment’. The then theologically intended Keble College, Oxford, was founded in his memory in 1870. Richmond presented a bust of Keble he had sculpted.