On Saturday we were delighted to open a display of sketches and watercolours by amateur artist Douglas Marshall Rigby (1891-1918). This is one of three exhibitions taking place locally to mark the centenary of Douglas’s death, organised by his family to celebrate the life of this remarkable but little-known man.
Douglas was born on the 27 July 1891 in Timperley, near Altrincham in Cheshire, the second child of Marshall and Grace Rigby. Marshall worked as a solicitor. His father, John Rigby, was a partner in Armitage & Rigby, one of the north-west’s most successful manufacturing and merchant businesses, operating mills and warehouses in and around Manchester. John’s business partner and brother-in-law, William Armitage, was also the father-in-law of William Oswald Carver, from another wealthy cotton manufacturing family. The extended family were known as ‘the clan’ because of the large New Year gatherings they held annually in Altrincham. Many of the men in this extended family would later serve in the Great War.
Douglas grew up with his older sister Honor (born 25 June 1888), first in Altrincham and then in Buxton, where the family moved in March 1898 for the children’s health. The family lived at White Knowle House in Burbage, enjoying a comfortable middle class existence with live-in servants, regular visits to family around the country and holidays on the Welsh coast. Grace records in her journal that Douglas had drawn from infancy but began to draw and paint in earnest aged about 7 years old. In May 1899 his father took him to Manchester Art Gallery, and Grace noted several months later that her son would still occasionally tell her something new about a painting he had seen there. In November 1899 she writes: “He is of a restless nature, unable to keep still for a minute together – except when drawing or painting” and “at any spare minute he is always drawing.”
After the move to Buxton, Honor and Douglas were first schooled by a governess and then by their mother. By the end of 1899 Grace was reporting that they also had private lessons in gymnastics and dancing, and that Honor went fencing once a week! In 1900, Douglas had his first art lessons, but these were sporadic. He was later enrolled at Holmleigh Preparatory School on Devonshire Road in Buxton (demolished 1961), and by 1905 he was studying at Marlborough College, a boys boarding school in Wiltshire. Here he took painting and drawing lessons alongside his other subjects. In his own time he drew caricatures of fellow pupils and school staff and was encouraged to paint by his housemaster. In autumn 1907 he won the school watercolour prize.
Douglas begged to leave school when he was 17 and go to a studio so that he could become an artist. He went to a studio in Kensington, London and boarded with a family nearby. Apparently he enjoyed his time there, both working in the studio and visiting places of interest, but soon realised that he was not good enough to make a living as an artist and worried about how much money was being spent on his training. After about a year he decided that he had better follow his father into business. He returned to live with the rest of the family at White Knowle in Buxton and joined the office of one of his uncles, an iron and steel merchant in Manchester.
I can’t imagine that working in an office in the city held much joy for a young man of artistic inclination who loved the outdoors, but this is Douglas’s last known occupation. A few years later, war would break out and his life would change forever. I’ll write more about that in a few weeks time.
You can enjoy the display of Douglas’s artworks and a small selection of personal items during our normal opening hours, until Saturday 10 November 2018. A companion book and DVD produced by Douglas’s great nephew, Richard Elsner, are available for purchase from the museum shop. Additional artworks and other items kindly loaned by Douglas’s surviving family members can be seen in exhibitions in Chester and Knutsford*.