It is not often one sees landscapes by Augustus Oakley Deacon, but I well recall attending the sale of Chase Cliffe House, Crich, in July 1997 at which a number of his generally fairly large canvasses were on offer. I was particularly struck by an oil, The Campsie Hills from Lenzie which was 51 by 76 cm and impressive. It was estimated at £800-£1,200 and made just a little more. A pair of smaller ones, atmospheric but less striking made £800. There were also fourteen watercolours, including two good ones of Derby, estimated in the low hundreds.
The house had been the home of his son, eminent mining engineer Maurice Deacon (1850-1941) from 1924, bought from the Hurt family who had built it in 1859, to the designs of Pugin’s pupil Benjamin Ferrey in 1937. The vendor in 1997 acquired much of the contents and most of the pictures with the house in 1954 and any Deacons that have some up for sale subsequently have tended to have started out at Chase Cliffe sale, including the material from a substantial folio of sketches.
The Deacons were London merchants, and John, the artist’s father lived at 27 Piccadilly, no less at the time of his birth in May 1819. The lad was named Augustus after the first Roman Emperor of course, but also, rather more subtly, after his cousin once removed, the budding artist Octavius Oakley, bearing in mind that the Emperor Augustus was called Octavius at birth. Octavius’s cousin Laura being Augustus’s mother.
The original intention seems to have been that the boy should go into the law, but paternal penury supervened, coupled with the obvious flowering of his artistic talent. As a result he was packed off at the age of eleven to stay in a smart Regency house in North Parade, Derby, where cousin Octavius was living with his wife, Maria, daughter of a notable Corn Market petrifactioner and gilder. The cousin was from a family from Herefordshire, but settled at Derby to do scenery painting for the Royal Theatre and glass transparencies for the Tyrian Freemasonic Lodge. He was also a portraitist of some talent with clients amongst the upper crust of the county. We might indeed perhaps take a look at his work and its potential for collectors in a future instalment.
Unfortunately poor Octavius was widowed in January 1834, and in 1835 took himself off to Leamington (where he remarried), leaving Augustus in the care of Mrs. Oakley’s family, the Moseleys, who put him to work drawing in their workshop. Nevertheless, he made frequent trips to London to see his family, and in 1844 married another cousin, Anna Maria Elizabeth, daughter of his father’s brother Thomas. They then returned to a house in Mount Street, Derby, and Augustus set up an ad hoc art teaching studio in the picture gallery at the rear of Joseph Strutt’s residence Thorntree House, 1, St. Peter’s Street. Although his benefactor had just died, this sort of arrangement was typical of the Strutt’s philanthropy and keen-ness for education and in 1857 Deacon co-founded a more formal art school there, which flourished for a while before declining and being taken over by the Derby School of Art in Green Lane.
Deacon wrote at this period his Manual of Elementary Practice in Drawing Real Objects (London 1845) and in the 1850s bought a house on Burton Road to which he added a studio. It is from this period that he painted several views of the Jacobean House in The Wardwick, Derby, shortly before its truncation in 1852, at the behest of its owner, Francis Jessopp who was keen to preserve a building he considered a treasure, he also commissioned the architect John Price to measure and draw plans and elevations as was.
He taught art at both Derby School and Repton, exhibiting his work frequently, fifty two altogether over his lifetime, including nine at the Royal Academy. In the 1880s he planned to move to the south coast to paint, but failing eyesight obliged him to live with Maurice near Mansfield by 1891 and he died at their later home, Cavendish House, The Park, Nottingham on the last day of 1899. He attributed his blindness to sitting on cold stones to paint! The worst, one usually gets from doing this is piles.
He and Anna had six sons (one died young and two were twins; Maurice was the third) and two daughters; although a late second marriage which produced a further son Arthur, has been widely claimed, his obituaries reveal Anna was his widow and no sign of Arthur appears in the record nor do accounts of Deacons character suggest a by-blow.
Although Derby Museum has a few examples of his work, including the Jacobean House views) the majority remain in private hands and constitute a body of work covering almost 50 years which in the main are eminently affordable and of excellent quality. The sort of prices put on the works at Chase Cliffe nineteen years ago still hold good, and the larger oils to my mind exceed those of say George Turner, both in quality of execution, quality and composition at a lesser price, too. The watercolours are less impressive on the whole, although a few really good ones will make much more impressive prices; my favourite is a luminously atmospheric view of Derby from the river showing the towers of St. Alkmund’s and St. Mary’s rising through the smoke of many domestic fires, looking south west of c. 1870 sold at Bamford’s for over £400 a few years ago.