Henry Constantine Richter

Henry Constantine Richter (1821-1902)


Fig. 1

Following the death of his wife in 1841, John Gould turned next to Henry Constantine Richter for artistic support. A Londoner, Richter came from a family of artists. His grandfather, John Augustus Richter, who had come to England from Dresden, Germany, was an artist and engraver, whose specialty was painting in imitation of marble. One of his sons, Henry James Richter, began as an illustrator, making drawings and engravings, during the 1790s. Later he became a painter, achieving some popularity for depicting historical subjects in watercolors and in oils. In turn his son, Henry Constantine, probably received instruction in art from his father and from his elder half-sister (from his father’s first marriage), Henrietta Sophia, who was a painter of miniature portraits (Cust 2012; Jackson 1978, 10-11).

Fig. 3

Fig. 2

The twenty year old Richter attracted Gould’s attention by several illustrations that he drew for George Robert Gray’s book then in preparation for publication, Genera of Birds (London,1844-1849) (Fig. 1). The Gray book is illustrated with hand-colored lithographic plates printed by Hullmandel & Walton, who also printed many of Gould’s books (Jackson 1978, 11).

After joining Gould’s employ Richter’s first task was to complete the illustrations for Birds of Australia, working from the skins and sketches brought back from Australia by Gould and his wife. Accuracy was extremely important, as in all scientific drawing, and Richter’s careful draftsmanship lent itself to Gould’s requirements. Richter drew either from bird skins or from living birds in the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park near Gould’s home and workshop (Jackson 1978, 12). (Figs. 2 and 3.) Richter also worked on Gould’s Mammals of Australia (1845-1863), drawing, for example, the Great Red Kangaroo from a male at London’s Zoological Gardens in 1853 (Figs. 4 and 5).

Richter went on to provide many illustrations for successive Gould books, first drawing on paper and then copying onto lithographic stone over1500 bird illustrations, totalling more than half of the plates in Gould’s books. He sometimes rendered sketches by other Gould artists, such as Joseph Wolf, as lithographs (Figs. 6 & 7). When Gould died in 1881, he bequeathed “to my artist H. C. Richter a legacy of £100 (worth about £7,500 in the year 2000) as a kind remembrance for the purchase of a ring or any other article that he may prefer” (Jackson 1978, 10).

There is no record of later illustrative work by Richter. By the 1890s he was living in a “Home for Aged Poor” in Hammersmith near his sister’s house at 56 Frithville Gardens. His circumstances improved somewhat when she died in 1896 and left the house to him. At his own death in 1902 he left the house and the modest sum of £200 (Jackson 1978, 11).

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Fig. 6

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SELECTED REFERENCES

Cust, L. H. “Richter, Henry James (1772-1857)”, rev. David Wootton, Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2012.

Jackson, Christine E. “H.C. Richter – John Gould’s unknown bird artist,” Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 9, no. 1 (1978): 10-14.

Lambourne, Maureen. John Gould, Bird Man. Milton Keynes, UK: Osberton Productions, 1987.

LIST OF FIGURES

Fig. 1. Yunx pectoralis. Henry Constantine Richter. Credited: “H.C. Richter del.” Hand-colored lithographic print. George Robert Gray. Genera of Birds. London, 1844-1849. Plate 112. Call number: MS G45, Unbound copy, vol. [i.e. portfolio] 4.

Fig. 2. Robust White Eye / Zosterops strenuus. Henry Constantine Richter. Pencil; watercolor. Call number: Gould Drawing 91.

Fig. 3. Robust White Eye / Zosterops strenuus. Henry Constantine Richter. Credited: “J. Gould and H.C. Richter, del. et lith.” Hand-colored lithographic print. Birds of Australia, Supplement, 1869. Plate 48. Call number: Ellis Aves H130

Fig. 4. Great Red kangaroo / Osphranter rufus. Henry Constantine Richter. Pencil; watercolor. Call number: Gould Drawing 746

Fig. 5. Great Red kangaroo / Osphranter rufus. Henry Constantine Richter. Credited: “J. Gould and H.C. Richter, del. et lith.” Hand-colored lithographic print. Mammals of Australia, 1863, Vol. 2. Call number: Ellis Omnia H56

Fig. 6. Tibetan partridge / Perdix hodgsoniae. Joseph Wolff, with John Gould’s modifications in pencil. Pencil, chalk, charcoal, pastel. May 1857. Call number: Gould Drawing 825a

Fig. 7. Tibetan partridge / Perdix hodgsoniae. Henry Constantine Richter. Credited: Wolf and H.C Richter, del. et lith.” Hand-colored lithographic print. Birds of Asia, 1850-1883. Vol. 6, plate 74. Call number: Ellis Aves H120