Artist Collections

Fred Richards

Newport 1878 – London 1932

Frederick Charles Richards RE, painter, etcher and art educationalist studied at Newport School of Art and, during the vacations, at the Art School in Bruges. For a short while he was an uncertified teacher which he gave up to travel in Europe and North Africa. At the age of thirty, with the first art scholarship from Newport Education Authority, he studied at the Royal College of Art specialising in etching under the tuition of Sir Frank Short RE. After receiving his Diploma he went on a tour from Honfleur to Vire in Normandy making drawings which he later worked into etchings. In 1914 he was commissioned by A & C Black to make drawings for the Windsor and Eton Sketchbooks. In August that year he was working in Florence, in September in Venice (which he called “City of my Dreams”), and he was in Rome during October. A & C Black bought the rights to reproduce all these drawings for the Venice, Florence and Rome Sketchbooks. Richards was exempted from military service due to ill-health and further commissions for books on Constantinople, Athens, Jerusalem and Cairo were postponsed during the war. Richards was then commissioned by Frank Pick, Head of the Design Department at London Transport, to make a series of drawings to advertise the Underground. The proceeds of the sales of the booklet Hampstead: Being Eight Sketches in Pencil with some Letterpress was donated in aid of wounded soldiers in Hampstead.

Richards made prints from 1912 to 1930 which he exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. His etchings were published by Colnaghi’s. Richards made numerous drawings, watercolours and prints of towns and cities in England and Wales as well as on the Continent. He made fewer prints during the 1920s when most of his energy was taken up with public engagements, teaching and examining — lecturing on ‘Art in Civic Life’, ‘Art and its Place in School and Life’, ‘Art and its Relation to Empire Building’ etc. He lived in Chelsea and was Secretary of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers 1918–19, a Member of the Council for Imperial Arts League, an elected Member of the Art Workers' Guild in May 1923 (sponsored by W. H. Lethaby and Frank Short), Lecturer in Pedagogy at the Royal College of Art 1922–27, Senior Art Examiner for London University and Art Examiner for the College of Perceptors. He resigned all these posts in 1927 to continue making pictures and resume travelling — to Egypt, Palestine and Syria. In November 1931, shortly before his death, Jonathan Cape published A Persian Journey with text and illustrations by Richards.

Fred Richards was a close friend of Thomas Jones CH, statesman, politician and Secretary to the Cabinet serving under four Prime Ministers. In turn, Jones was a confident of art collectors and patrons Gwendoline and Margaret Davies of Gregynog whose fine collection of 19th century French paintings and sculpture is now housed at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. In 1918 Richards’ Report on the Teaching of Art in the Intermediate Schools of Wales attracted considerable attention. He criticised not only the standard of teaching in Welsh schools but was disheartened that ‘in our universities from among 641 degrees there is not one degree in Fine Art’. Soon after, the University of Wales set up an arts committee, and it is likely that in 1918, through his friendship with Thomas Jones, he was instrumental in persuading the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth to establish the Arts and Crafts Department and Museum with the financial support of the Davies sisters. The teaching of art and crafts at Aberystwyth was to complement their work at Gregynog which, it was hoped, would lead to a craft revival in Wales.

Bibliog: W J Townsend Collins Artist-Venturer: The Life and Letters of Fred Richards, Etcher and Author R H Johns Ltd., Newport no date - probably around 1945.