Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rivers, Richard Godfrey (1859–1925)

by Janet Hogan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Richard Godfrey Rivers (1859?-1925), artist, was born probably in 1859 at Plymouth, Devon, England, son of Richard Rivers, landed proprietor, and his wife Bertha, née Harris. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London (1877-83) under Professor Alphonse Legros, receiving the prize for landscape painting in 1883 and exhibiting at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1884. In 1889 he came to Australia. With Blamire Young and Phil May he taught at Katoomba College, New South Wales, then was appointed second art master at Brisbane Technical College (1890-1910, part-time 1910-15). He soon emerged as leader of Brisbane's nascent artistic community and the first artist member of the Queensland Club in 1891.

Rivers also taught at his studio, at the Brisbane High School for Girls and at Brisbane Girls' Grammar School; his students included Bessie Gibson, Vida Lahey and Harold Parker. Rivers was president of the Queensland Art Society in 1892-1901 and 1904-08. Largely through his efforts the Queensland National Art Gallery ultimately opened in 1895; the opening exhibition was hung by him and included his 'Woolshed New South Wales' (1890). Rivers was inaugural secretary to the trustees, the gallery's first curator (1895-1914), and contributed significantly to the development of the collection. An outstandingly successful visiting exhibition of British art in 1909 was arranged by him, and in 1911 he organized a spectacular coronation pageant, raising funds which helped to secure the Queensland Art Society's own premises. He was a regular exhibitor.

His course at the technical college embraced both art and craft. His extant work includes the decorative painting of angelic figures on the ceiling of the sanctuary in St Mary's Church, Kangaroo Point (1892), his design of the altar in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, carved by L. J. Harvey, and other furniture in the cathedral. His friend and colleague Harvey later designed the Godfrey Rivers medal, established at the technical college in 1929 by Rivers' wife Selina Jane, née Bell, whom he had married in St John's Cathedral on 25 September 1901.

Though acting supervisor, Rivers was not appointed supervisor of the art department when the technical college was restructured in 1915. He retired to Hobart, where he became involved in a movement for a new gallery and produced a bronze war-shrine at St David's Cathedral. Rivers died on 4 February 1925 of typhoid fever while on a visit to England and his ashes were interred in Toowong cemetery, Brisbane. His wife and daughter survived him. The Godfrey Rivers Trust, founded by his wife for the Queensland Art Gallery, established the Godfrey Rivers prize (acquisitive) and purchased art works. Mrs Rivers presented to the gallery several of her husband's works and a bronze bust of him by his former student Daphne Mayo.

Rivers' portrait of the gallery's founding president, Sir Samuel Griffith, hangs in the Supreme Court of Queensland. His most popular work, 'Under the Jacaranda' (1903), hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery and features his wife. His elder brother Archdeacon Arthur Richard was dean of Hobart from 1920.

Select Bibliography

  • Illustrated Catalogue of the Queensland National Art Gallery (Brisb, 1908)
  • Royal Queensland Art Society, Golden Jubilee Review and Catalogue (Brisb, 1937)
  • V. Lahey, Art in Queensland, 1859-1959 (Brisb, 1959)
  • J. K. Brown and M. Maynard, Fine Art Exhibitions in Brisbane 1884-1916 (Brisb, 1980)
  • A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts, vol 3 (Lond, 1970)
  • Church of England, Diocese of Brisbane, Church Chronicle, 1 Nov 1900, p 52
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 29, 30 Mar 1895, 26 Sept 1901, 29 Sept 1979, 18 Apr 1980
  • Queenslander, 13 June 1925
  • G. R. Cooke, The Milieu of the Arts and Crafts in Brisbane 1890-1915 (manuscript, privately held)
  • McConnell papers (State Library of Queensland)
  • Godfrey Rivers Trust file and Godfrey Rivers correspondence and biography files (Queensland Art Gallery)
  • Royal Queensland Art Society, newsclippings book
  • EDU/A416 (Queensland State Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Janet Hogan, 'Rivers, Richard Godfrey (1859–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rivers-richard-godfrey-8217/text14379, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 17 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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