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Charles Catton Senior (1728-1798)

Charles Catton Senior, painter of landscapes, animals and some portraits, was born in Norwich, the son of Richard and his second wife, Hannah, in September 1728. On his death at Judd Place in London 28 August 1798, his obituarist in The Gentleman’s Magazine recorded that he was one of thirty-five children. He is buried in Bloomsbury Cemetery, Brunswick Square.

Apprenticed to a coach painter called Maxfield in London, Catton became an accomplished painter of heraldry. His work in this field is distinguished by his ability to represent the supporters of coats of arms as naturalistic animals as opposed to heraldic symbols. A good number of animal drawings pasted into the album, notably of lions, testify to this talent. Catton was also a member of the St Martin’s Lane Academy, where he became adept at depicting the human figure. This combination of skills gave him a reputation as the finest of the Heraldic Painters then in London and he became coach painter to George III. The Royal Academy catalogues record that he lived in Gate Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields 1769-1793 and he also became Master of the Painter-Stainers Company in 1783. He exhibited regularly at the Incorporated Society of Artists 1760-1768 and was one of the founder members of the Royal Academy in 1768. He is depicted amongst his fellow founders at the Royal Academy by Johann Zoffany (Royal Collection) and again in a self-portrait in the Mellon Collection at Yale. Norwich Castle holds a version of this portrait by his son which is now on display in the refurbished galleries.

The Drawings

Men with horse and wagon in a cavernThe discovery of this album provides a great deal of additional evidence of a lesser-known aspect of Charles Catton. The watercolours demonstrate a light and humorous touch, which justifies comparison with Thomas Rowlandson. Indeed, a small number have been identified as known Rowlandson compositions, suggesting not only Catton’s admiration for the young artist who developed as a caricaturist in the early 1780s, but perhaps also a debt by Rowlandson to Catton at this early stage of his development. The young Rowlandson was at the Royal Academy Schools at the age of sixteen in 1772, at a time when Charles Catton was associated with the Royal Academy.

Pulls Ferry, Norwich, with a keel in the foreground and Norwich Castle and Shirehouse in the distance' The drawings are accomplished and fully substantiate the praise given Catton by his contemporaries. They reveal an aptitude for topographical landscape, and also interior and genre scenes, which are delightful vignettes of town and country life. In addition a good number show a detailed study of animals and birds, many of them exotic. This previously unknown collection of drawings reveals that Catton Senior possessed a real talent for drawing and that the relationship between his work and that of his son is far closer than has hitherto been recognised.

So far we have found only one watercolour in a public collection that may be attributed to Catton Senior: View of the bridges at Hawick in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Another Norwich subject in the Victoria and Albert Museum, View of Norwich, has been identified as by Catton Junior on the basis of an engraving. There is a corresponding view of the right hand side of that composition in the album: this is more accomplished than the watercolour attributed to Catton Junior. The lively figures that populate the album scene suggest a different hand and those in the finished watercolour (and engraving) are more schematic by comparison. This is the case with the entire figure drawing in the album watercolours. It seems the son worked closely in his father’s style, later using the drawings that eventually became his property. The majority of the album watercolours can be identified as by Catton Senior with some confidence, and other internal evidence can substantiate this. A small number of the monochrome wash drawings may be regarded as collected by the Cattons, father or possibly son.

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