Eastlake was born in Plymouth, Devon, the fourth son of an Admiralty lawyer. He was educated at local grammar schools in Plymouth and, briefly, at Charterhouse, Surrey. He was committed to becoming a painter, and in 1809 he became the first pupil of Benjamin Haydon and a student at the Royal Academy schools in London — where he later exhibited.
However his first exhibited work was shown at the British Institution in 1815, a year in which he also visited Paris and studied works in the Louvre (then known as the Musée Napoléon). His first notable success was a painting Napoleon on Board the Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound (1815; now in the National Maritime Museum, London). Like many other people at the time, Eastlake had hired a boat to take him to the ship on which Napoleon was held captive in Plymouth harbour. He sketched him from the boat.
Despite being based predominantly in mainland Europe, Eastlake regularly sent works back to London for exhibition, and in 1827 he was elected a member of the Royal Academy. Three years later, he returned to England permanently where he continued to paint historic and biblical paintings set in Mediterranean landscapes.
As an art scholar, he translated Goethe's Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colours, 1840) and the Handbuch der Geschichte der Malerei (Handbook of the History of Painting) by Franz Kugler. These publications and his reputation as an artist led to his nomination in 1841 to become secretary of the Fine Arts Commission, the body in charge of government art patronage. In his On Vision and Colors, § 14, Schopenhauer praised Eastlake's translation of Goethe.
Eastlake, the painter and gallery inspector, furnished his countrymen, in 1840, with such an excellent translation of Goethe's theory of color that it is a perfect reproduction of the original and reads more easily; in fact, it is understood more easily than the original.
From 1850–1865, he was the second president of the Birmingham Society of Artists. Elected President of the Royal Academy and knighted in 1850, he became a notable figure in the British art establishment, being appointed the first President of the Photographic Society in 1853 and, in 1855, the first Director of the National Gallery. His directorship was marred by the signal failure of the National Gallery to fulfil the terms of the bequest of J.M.W.Turner, his erstwhile friend. Cambridge University awarded him an honorary degree in 1864.
Eastlake died in Pisa, Italy, on Christmas Eve 1865, and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London. His will provided for the Gallery to purchase his own collection of paintings. Lady Eastlake sold her husband's art history book collection to the Gallery's library.
- Materials for a History of Oil Painting (1847).
- Contributions to the Literature of the Fine Arts (1848).
- Monkhouse, William Cosmo (1885–1900). "Eastlake, Charles Lock". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 330–333. ; Endnotes:
- Memoir by Lady Eastlake prefixed to the second series of Contributions to the Literature of the Fine Arts
- Pictures by Sir Charles Eastlake
- Haydon's Autobiography
- Catalogue of the National Gallery (Wornum), and books mentioned in the text.
- Rossetti, William Michael (1911). "Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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