October 8, 2019

The Art of Briton Riviere

Briton Riviere’s emotive paintings capture the emotion between animals and people.


Daniel in the Lions Den, Briton Riviere. The composition leads the viewer back and forth from the person to the lions.

Briton Riviere’s painting are magical.  If you’re fascinated by the beauty of animals, and the unique relationship they have with humans, you can’t  help but love the art of Briton Riviere.  He manages to show the relationship humans have with animals, and at times, how we are dependent on them for support.


Sympathy c.1878 Briton Riviere 1840-1920. A girl looking pensive and her dog giving her comfort.

One of his best is called Sympathy. The dog’s look and leaning is exactly what little terriers like this one do.

It’s obvious that Riviere studied animals- mostly dogs. Not just the look on their face, or the scruff of their fur, but their entire body.  Their body language is perfect- we can tell how the animal feels in relation to the human he or she is with. What’s also notable is the animal is the focal point of the image- not an ancillary detail. Most artists study anatomy- but not all are astute enough to understand- and translate- the relationship people have with their animals. There is not only a tension in the relationship- but a yearning of communication. It is obvious that he studied animal anatomy and the interaction between humans.

Riviere was an English painter who worked in the late 1800’s. The artist started as an illustrator for the British magazine Punch. His works appeared in the British Institution, a private 19th-century society which exhibited the works of living and dead artists. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy, a London arts institution still in existence today. In 1865 his work took a turn towards animals. He did have some formal art training, however much of his training is attributed to his father.


His Only Friend, Briton Riveire. Another connection between a dog and a child.

The only way to paint wild animals is to gradually accumulate a large number of studies and a great knowledge of the animal itself, before you can paint its picture …I paint from dead animals as well as from live ones. I have had the body of a fine lioness in my studio … I have done a great deal of work in the dissecting rooms at the Zoological Gardens from time to time.

– Briton Riviere


Fidelity by Briton Riviere. The dog looks longingly at the young man.

His subtle brush strokes, lighting and attention to fine detail is reminiscent of John Singer Sargent.  And ummm, yes- that’s a huge compliment.

His work is exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum, the Tate, Royal Holloway, and the University of London.

There are many more works to look at here:

  • ArtUK has a wonderful collection of his work.
  • Further reading and illustrations of Briton Riviere’s work at archive.
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