William RIVIERE (1806–1876)
St Mary Magdalen section: Row 23, Grave G68

William Riviere



BORN OCTOBER 22, 1807*

DIED AUGUST 21, 1876


[Space appears to have been left here
for an inscription to his wife, but she
was not buried with him]


[Five lines of text, probably biblical]


* This appears to be an error for October 22, 1806. Riviere's age at death (nearly 70) confirms a birth year of 1806, and all sources agree on this. His next brother Robert was baptised on 25 July 1808, so William could not have been born near the end of 1807.


See the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for the full life and career of William Riviere, drawing master

Four other members of his family also have entries in the ODNB:
his brothers Henry Parsons Riviere (watercolour painter) and Robert Riviere (bookbinder); his sister Anna Bishop, née Riviere, (singer); and his son Briton Riviere (painter)


William Riviere was born in Marylebone on 22 October 1806 and baptised there on 15 November. He was the third of the twelve children of Daniel Valentine Riviere of London and Henrietta Thunder of Eaton, Buckinghamshire who were married at St George's Church, Hanover Square on 18 December 1800. His siblings included Samuel James Riviere (1803), John Henry William Riviere (1805), Robert Riviere (1808), Ann[a] Riviere (1810), Henry Parsons Riviere (1811), Fanny Riviere (1813), Louisa Riviere (1815), Caroline Riviere (1819), Margaret Riviere (1821), and Elizabeth Riviere (1824).

William's father was a drawing-master, and many members of his family had artistic talent. William himself enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy on 23 December 1824, and exhibited there from 1826.

On 21 June 1830 at Polesworth, Warwickshire, William Riviere married the still-life painter Ann Jarvis (20), who was born at Sheepy, Leicestershire, the daughter of Joseph Jarvis. They had four children:

  • Marion Riviere (born in Marylebone on 2 June 1833 and baptised at Holy Trinity Church there on 4 July)
  • Henrietta Fanny Riviere (born in Marylebone on 22 April 1835 and baptised at Holy Trinity Church there on 16 May)
  • Annette Louise Riviere (born in Marylebone on 23 January 1837 and baptised at Holy Trinity Church there on 16 February)
  • Briton Riviere (born in Marylebone on 14 August 1840 and baptised at Holy Trinity Church there on 5 September).

At the time of the 1841 census William Riviere (33), described as an artist, was living at Bath Place, St Pancras with his wife Ann (31) and their four children Marion (7), Fanny (6), Annette (4), and Briton (nine months), plus a pupil and a servant.

In 1849 Riviere was appointed Master of the drawing academy at Cheltenham College, and at the time of the 1851 census he was living at Shurdington Road, Leckhampton,, Cheltenham with his wife Ann and their children Marion (17), Henrietta (15), Annette (14), and Briton (10), plus one servant.

His daughter Marion was married in 1853:

  • On 12 June 1853 at St Peter's Church, Leckhampton, Marion Riviere (20) married Charles Howard, a Tasmanian-born barrister who was a widower with three children.

His daughter Henrietta Fanny Riviere died in Brighton at the age of 19 on 28 September 1854, and was buried in St Peter's churchyard, Leckhampton.

Riviere resigned from Cheltenham College in 1859, and moved to Oxford, where he established a drawing school. At the time of the 1861 census William (54) was living in Park Town with his wife Ann (51) and their children Annette (24) and Briton (20), who was also an artist, plus one servant. Briton was matriculated at the University of Oxford at the age of 22 on 31 January 1863.

William Riviere painted a number of Oxford worthies, including John Obadiah Westwood, who is also buried in this cemetery. His last exhibited work (1860) was a portrait of Philip Wynter, D.D., President of St John's College, Oxford.

His son Briton was married in 1867:

  • On 6 August 1867 St Peter's Church, Leckhampton, Briton Riviere of Ss Philip & James's parish, Oxford married Mary Alice Dobell of Leckhampton, who was also a painter.

By 1871 William Riviere (64) was living at 36 Beaumont Street with his wife Ann (61) and their daughter Annette (34), plus one servant. He died of apoplexy at that house in 1876:

† William Riviere died at 36 Beaumont Street at the age of 69 on 21 August 1876 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 24 August (burial recorded in the parish register of St Mary Magdalen Church).

His death notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal read: “Aug. 21, suddenly, at 36, Beaumont-street, Oxford, William Riviere, in his 70th year.—Friends will kindly accept this intimation.”

His effects came to under £600, and his wife was his executor.

The following obituary by one of his former pupils appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 2 September 1876:

The death of Mr. Riviere will be keenly felt throughout a wide-spread circle of friends and former pupils, who had learned to love and appreciate the rare and noble qualities which distinguished him. Many an officer in India and other distant stations will mourn for the kind adviser who first taught him to see, and to endeavour to represent, the beauties of nature; and not a few artists and men of letters, nearer home, will miss the honest manly critic who could so often surprise and interest them by his bold comparisons of the relative powers of painting and literature.

In the arena of literature and art the race is not always to the swift or the battle to the strong; many a champion, whose natural powers were fitted to secure the highest prize, allows the prize to pass to others, preferring himself to pursue some peculiar course of his own, outside the beaten track conventionally marked out for those who would win popular reward; and only his fellow competitors or the cultivated few whose knowledge enables them to form an independent opinion are aware of the nature of gifts which, differently applied, would secure to their owner a wide-spread renown. Such a man was William Riviere; those who knew him best could not but recognise in him the integral qualities of a great artist. His rare powers as a draughts-man, his large and comprehensive knowledge of the great principles of his art were patent to every professional eye; but devotion to the educational forms of art which he had adopted as a special mission led him to neglect the pursuit of those technical qualities which are most noticed in modern picture galleries, and are necessary to secure the social decorations of the profession.

Mr. Riviere was born in London October 22, 1806, and being the son of an artist, was prepared at an early age to follow the profession of his father. He entered the Royal Academy as a student, and was remarkable among his fellows for his fine powers as a draughtsman, his knowledge of anatomy and the principles of chiaroscuro, and for his passionate devotion to the study of the old masters, especially of Michael Angelo and the artists of the Roman and Florentine schools, with whose works he possessed an intimate knowledge such as is acquired by few Englishmen. For this reason he was marked out by his brother artists as likely to become a successful competitor when the Government announced its intention to invite an open competition of cartoons on a gigantic scale as a prelude to the fresco decorations of the Houses of Parliament, and his cartoon representing an early Parliament of ancient Britons was very highly spoken of by the Times and all the leading London papers, and for artistic merit of design was preferred by many eminent artists, although it failed to be selected by the special Committee.

Previous to this time Mr. Riviere had painted several large works, which were exhibited at the Royal Academy and other public galleries, but the cartoon competition and the public debates and criticisms which ensued thereupon appeared to him to display such a general ignorance of the more important aspects of the subject that he surrendered himself wholly to an idea which had been gradually developing itself in his mind, and decided that the first mission of an English artist was, not to exhibit pictures, but to teach his fellow country-men to use their eyes aright, and to discover that the facts to be told by the pencil are as worthy of lifelong study and as full of significance as those to be told by the pen. From this time forward he devoted himself to the educational side of art, endeavouring to bring its first principles within the limits of a code suited to the comprehension of beginners: and with a view to putting his theory into practice, he, contrary to the advice and opinion of his brother artists, quitted London, where he was at once making a reputation and a good income, and applied for and obtained the post of drawing master at Cheltenham College in the year 1849. Here in a young and rising institution he found a wide field for his labour, and succeeded in creating a drawing school which was unique of its kind, and coming at a period anterior to the establishment of Government Schools of design, was probably the best school of art out of London, and formed for many years a leading feature of the College which had the good fortune to possess it.

At Cheltenham, Mr. Riviere laboured to introduce a system by which drawing should be taught as an important branch of science, and not as a mere polite amusement. The enthusiasm of the teacher communicated itself to the pupils, and a large number of the boys, especially in the military departments, imbibed a taste for art and a power of rapid and masterly drawing, which has remained with them through life. But the elementary instruction necessary in a school of young boys, always beginning, and never able to get beyond the rudiments of the art, was a labour of which the mechanical monotony fairly wore out the artist’s strong frame and active energy, and after ten years of incessant labour he resigned his appointment and came to Oxford, attracted by the prospect of living in the immediate neighbourhood of the principal seat of learning, and eager for an opportunity to aid the development of his favourite theory, that the study of art should form an essential part of higher education. To this end he has incessantly laboured and argued with more or less success, and has seen many of his early dreams actually realised, although he himself had no conspicuous part in their fulfilment. His genial manner and strict integrity of character were widely known, but only those who possessed the privilege of habitual entré to his studio were able to appreciate the large and generous nature of the man, his sympathy with all that was good and beautiful, his contempt for all that was small, mean, or time-serving, his genuine devotion to abstract art, and his anxiety to secure recognition of its grander and larger elements in preference to those distinguished by temporary fashion and prejudice. To this end he strenuously denounced Pre-raphaelitism when Pre-raphaelitism was triumphant, and lived to see the best representatives of the School acknowledge their own error. Above all other aspirations his cherished desire was to direct all artistic effort to the glory of God. His truly devotional spirit animated his whole life from first to last. One of his largest and most important works was a series of life-size pictures illustrating the “Acts of Mercy.” Some of these pictures contain examples of design of a very high order, and the best efforts of his declining years were given to the elaboration of a design for a Communion Plate, in which he laboured to give form to the idea of Divine love and forgiveness. Sketch after sketch, mould after mould, was discarded and thrown aside, and the latest rendering of the subject, in solid metal, richly gilt, stands now in the studio, a lasting witness to the pure heart and steadfast faith of the author.

The pursuit of art appears to be hereditary in the family, of which Mr. Riviere was the eldest living representative; his father was a medallist of the Royal Academy, his brother, Henry Riviere, is a well-known member of the old Water Colour Society, and his only son, Mr. Briton Riviere, has followed in the footsteps of his father, and has, moreover, achieved a popularity and success to widely known to need any description here.

The studio of the artist contains a vast mass of finished and unfinished work of various descriptions, including a number of very fine sketches from nature taken in Italy, in different parts of England, and more especially in the neighbourhood of Oxford itself. There are also several large oil paintings, and a fine original design in sculpture of Samson killing the lion. These works the writer hopes to examine more carefully and to notice at greater length on a future occasion.

It was reported in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 17 February 1877 that a free exhibition of a collection of William Riviere's paintings (and some others that he owned) would take place in the Clarendon Hotel on 20 and 21 February in Cornmarket prior to their sale by auction on 22 and 23 February.

On 26 January 1878 it was announced that his son Briton Riviere had been appointed an Associate of the Royal Academy: he too became a well-known painter, and has his own entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as well as here in Wikipedia.

At the time of the 1881 census William Riviere's widow Ann (71) was living at Wellington Mansions, Dorset Square, Marylebone with their artist daughter Annette (44), plus a servant.

Their daughter Annette Louise Riviere painted this portrait of Nora Selina Dobell (Mrs Williams), the older sister of Briton Riviere's wife. Annette died in Hampstead at the age of 50 in 1887.

In 1891 Mrs Riviere was living alone with a servant at 20 Harley Road, Hampstead. She died at 7 Lancaster Road, South Hampstead at the age of 89 on 19 March 1899, and was presumably buried in London. Her effects came to £87 0s. 2d., and her executor was her son Briton.

The two surviving children of William Riviere
  • Marion Riviere, Mrs Howard (born 1833) and her husband Charles Howard had six daughters: Marian Howard (1859), Elizabeth Howard (1860), Edith Howard (1861), Julia Fanny Howard (1863), Ethel Howard (1866), and Mabel Howard (1868). At the time of the 1871 census Marion (37) was living at 10 Devonshire Terrace, Marylebone with her husband Charles (48), who was a barrister-at-law, her three stepchildren, her six daughters, and four servants. In 1881 and 1891 they were living at 76 West Cromwell Road. In 1901 Marion, her husband, and their daughter Julia (38) were lodging at 7 Lancaster Road, the home of Miss Emily Cancellor. In 1911 Marion (77), who was now a widow, was still boarding with Miss Cancellor. She died in Hampstead at the age of 80 in 1914.
  • Briton Riviere (born 1840) and his wife Mary had seven children: Hugh Goldwyn Riviere (1869), Millicent Alice Riviere (1870), Clive Riviere (1872), Philip Lyle Riviere (1874), Evelyn Riviere (1876), Theodora Riviere (1877/8), and Bernard Beryl Riviere (1880). At the time of the 1871 census Briton (30) and Mary (26) were living at 16 Addison Road, Kensington with their son Hugh (2) and daughter Millicent (eight months), plus two nurses and a general servant. In 1881 they were living at 82 Finchley Road with all seven of their children, plus five servants (a governess, nurse, nursemaid, parlourmaid, and housemaid). Briton and Mary Ann were still living at that address in 1911 with six servants. Briton Riviere died there at the age of 79 on 20 April 1920. His effects came to £35,936 17s. 8d., and his executors were his wife and four of their children: Hugh (an artist), Clive (a doctor)., Philip (an engineer), and Evelyn (a barrister).



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