Five artists and their fathers

  • 9 June 2014

Does artistic talent run in the family? In honour of father's day we look at the relationship between five artists and their dads, from the Pipers to the Pissarros.

1. Camille and Lucien Pissarro

Regarded as the 'dean of impressionist painters', Camille Pissarro helped establish the careers of Cézanne and Gauguin. But just as important to him were his four sons, who all became painters thanks to his teaching. The eldest, Lucien, received continuous coaching from his father and the letters they exchanged have become valuable records of late 19th-century art.

Lucien's adoration of his father meant he named the publishing house he founded in 1894 – Eragny Press – after a village in Normandy where Camille had lived. One of the most distinguished private presses of the time, it focused on books that contained beautiful typography, illustration and binding. These were based mainly on Lucien's own drawings, remarkable for their use of colour.

2. John and Edward Piper

John Piper had a difficult relationship with his father, who wanted him to become a solicitor. In the end they agreed that John would work for his dad in London for three years, and then he could pursue whatever career he chose. John failed the law exams and his father died soon after, meaning he never finished the agreed tenure. Instead he became a highly successful painter, printmaker, war artist and designer.

John's own son, Edward, was keen to follow in his father's footsteps. Edward made his living taking photographs for the Shell County Guides and working on graphic design commissions, but he also painted - particularly known for his figurative art and depictions of landscapes in France, Italy and Spain. A number of his lithographs and screenprints are held in the Tate collection. Extending into the third generation, Edward's son's and John's grandsons – Luke and Henry – are a painter and sculptor respectively.

3. José Ruiz Blasco and Pablo Picasso

From the age of seven, Picasso received formal artistic training from his father in figure drawing and oil painting. Ruiz was a painter and a traditional art instructor, who believed the only way to learn was through disciplined copying of the masters, and drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models.

Ruiz specialised in realistic depictions of birds and pigeons. When he found Picasso, age 13, painting over one of his unfinished sketches of a pigeon with such precision and technique, Ruiz felt that his child had surpassed him. He vowed to give up painting then and there; however existing pieces from later years prove this was not actually the case.

Around this time the family moved to Malaga, where Ruiz took up a teaching position at the School of Fine Arts. He persuaded officials to allow his son to take an entrance exam for the advanced class which often took students a month to complete, but Picasso finished it in a week. The jury admitted him, even though he was still just 13. Ruiz rented a small room for Picasso away from home so he could work alone, yet dropped by to check up on him throughout the day. During these visits he would critique Picasso's drawings and, unsurprisingly, the two argued frequently. 

4. John and Lionel Constable

Of Constable's seven children, five drew or painted but Lionel was by far the most promising. Specialising in landscape, he taught himself almost entirely by studying his father's work. In fact, until the 1970s many of Lionel's paintings were attributed to John and the full scale of his work is still not known.

Lionel exhibited at the Royal Academy in the mid-19th century and made other attempts to sell his work, but it did not become his main source of income and he gave it up entirely after his brother Alfred’s death in 1853. He was also a skilled photographer.

5. William and May Morris

Innovative textile designer and socialist campaigner William Morris wanted to restore needlework to its former glory in the decorative arts. He taught himself embroidery, working on a custom-built frame based on an old model. Once he'd perfected his technique, Morris trained his wife Jane and her sister Bessie Burden. They in turn taught the couple's youngest daughter, May, who showed exceptional talent as a seamstress. In 1881 May enrolled at the National Art Training School – latterly the Royal College of Art – to study embroidery. Two years later, she became the director of Morris & Co's embroidery department, aged only 23.

But it wasn't just a talent for embroidery that she ​and her father shared; May also harboured strong socialist ideals. She was active in the Royal School of Needlework, which offered structured apprenticeships, and helped to found the Women’s Guild of Arts with Mary Elizabeth Turner as an alternative to the Art Workers Guild, which did not admit women.

Give the gift of art for father's day – buy a National Art Pass! Members get 50% off entry to major exhibitions, free entry to hundreds of museums around the UK, and much more.