Henry Meynell Rheam 1859-1920

  • Gathering Firewood by Henry Meynell Rheam
    Henry Meynell Rheam
    Gathering Firewood, 1913
    Watercolour and bodycolour
    55.9 x 76.2 cm (22 x 30 ins)
    Framed: 78.7 x 99.1 cm (31 x 39 ")
  • The Idler by Henry Meynell Rheam
    Henry Meynell Rheam
    The Idler, 1894
    40.6 cm x 25.4 cm

At the Opening Exhibition of Newlyn Art Gallery in 1895 a reviewer commented, "Among the watercolour men who choose figure subjects Mr Rheam is conspicuous".

Henry Meynell Rheam was born on 13th January 1859 in Birkenhead on Merseyside into a staunch Quaker family. He was the first cousin of Henry Scott Tuke. As a young man Rheam studied art in Germany, later enrolling at Heatherly's school in London before attending the Académie Julian in Paris.


It may well have been at the suggestion of his cousin Henry Scott Tuke, that Rheam moved to Cornwall, living first at Polperro. In 1890 he relocated to Newlyn, a short move later explained light-heartedly by the ‘father’ of the Newlyn School, Stanhope Alexander Forbes: ”The annual cricket match between the artists of St Ives and Newlyn was one of the chief sporting events of the year and about the time I speak of, St Ives had acquired two notable batsmen and Newlyn seemed likely to endure defeat. But in a fortunate moment, the situation was saved, for Henry Rheam, that notable cricketer, was imported at great expense from Polperro. He remained with us ever after and we had reason to remember gratefully the rivalry between the two colonies in the noble game”.


By 1891 Rheam was boarding at St Peters, Newlyn aged 32 years old. He clearly threw himself into life as an artist in the burgeoning Newlyn colony and in 1897 became the Honourary Secretary of the Newlyn Society of Artists; not to mention his central role in the cricket team!


Rheam’s early paintings in Newlyn conformed to the Newlyn oeuvre but gradually he moved towards a distinctly pre-Raphaelite style and more romantic subject matter. He favoured watercolour as a medium and like his peer, Walter Langley, was particularly gifted in painting the human figure. At the Opening Exhibition of the Newlyn Art Gallery in 1895 a reviewer commented, "Among the watercolour men who choose figure subjects Mr Rheam is conspicuous; his 'Belle dame sans merci', which was sold, is as complete a realisation of the heroine of Keat's poem as any artist is ever like to give us." He also showed more typical Newlyn works; 'Wrecked' and 'At the Window'. In that same year, at the 'Sketch Exhibition', Rheam exhibited seven artworks all of which sold, making him the show's best-selling artist. By 1897 he had moved to Boase Castle Lodge, Belle Vue in Newlyn, with his wife Alice Elliott Rheam. It was that same year that Rheam became the Honourary Secretary and Curator of the Newlyn Society of Artists; an involvement he was to maintain throughout his life.


Rheam exhibited at the Royal Academy, was elected to the R.B.A. (Royal Society of British Artists) in 1889, and R.I. (Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours) in 1892 and exhibited regularly in all 3 institutions.  The painter remained in Newlyn until about 1914 when he moved to West Lodge in Alverton, Penzance. Henry Meynell Rheam died in Penzance in 1920 aged 61, painting right up to end of his life in this part of West Penwith that he clearly loved.