This imposing portrait shows the Victorian industrialist John Osborne Riches (1827-86), pen in hand, sitting in an armchair.

Osborne Riches was born in Norwich and later settled in South Wales, where he became commercial manager of the Ocean Steam Coal Collieries. Osborne Riches’ successful management of the collieries led to the rapid expansion of the business. So successful was he in his endeavours, in fact, that by the end of the century Ocean Steam Coal Collieries had become the largest and most profitable coal company in the region of South Wales.

The owners and directors of the collieries commissioned this portrait of Osborne Riches from the French-born British painter Ford Madox Brown. Brown had made his name in England in the 1840s and 1850s with his narrative paintings in the style pioneered by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was also in demand at the time as a portrait painter and charged £250 for this work, complete with frame.

As part of the National Portrait Gallery collection the painting is an important example of industrial patronage of the arts, as well as a revealing depiction of bourgeois Victorian taste. Osborne Riches’ role in the development of the Welsh coal export business in the 19th century also raises interesting questions about Britain’s industrial and imperial history.


Provenance: Commissioned October 1873 by the shareholders of the Ocean Steam Colliery, Cardiff, through George Rae, for presentation to the owner’s wife, Mary Ann; by descent through the family to the present owners, Mrs C.C Webb and Mr S.A.J Webb.

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