This Camborne-born artist is perhaps Cornwall's earliest and most important artist aside from John OPIE, though the two each excelled in his own medium.
According to the art historians, Richard and Samuel Redgrave, Joshua Cristall was born in Camborne. His parents, Alexander Cristall, a mariner and Elizabeth Batten, the daughter of John Batten, a Penzance merchant, were married at Madron on 29 April 1767. Evidence points to Joshua having been born between December 1767 and April 1868 when he was baptised at St Botolph Without, Aldgate, London. Joshua grew up in the Greenwich and Rotherhithe areas but trips to Cornwall to visit family at Penzance were possibly frequent as one of his sisters (Ann) and his brother (Joseph) were both baptised at Madron.
The young Cristall was apprenticed to a china dealer at Aldgate, and then became a painter of porcelain in Shropshire at Thomas Turner's porcelain factory. Despite the protests of his father, but with the blessings of his mother, he returned to London in 1792 and suffered many privations in order to attend the Royal Academy schools under James Barry. He was noticed by a major benefactor of the time, Dr Thomas Monro, and with a number of other young artists began the work that was to inspire his life.
His one and only known trip to Cornwall occurred in 1794 presumably to visit family, and a small group of topographical drawings by him exist at St Michael's Mount and one of Mounts Bay at RIC, Truro. However, his sister, Anne Batten Cristall, published her Poetical Sketches in 1795, and at that stage she was described as 'the sister of Joshua Cristall, figure and landscape painter of Camborne' hence his presence there must have been widely known.
By 1802 and 1803 Cristall was established on the London art scene and made his first sketching tours to North Wales at times in the company of John and Cornelius Varley. He then exhibited an oil portrait at the Royal Academy. In 1804 the Society of Painters in Watercolour (Old Watercolour Society, becoming RWS in 1881) was formed and a year later Cristall was one of sixteen artists who showed work at their first exhibition (1805), and is credited with being 'an important figure in the development of the English watercolour school.'
1805 saw him touring the Lake District and in 1807, following a period of ill health, he went to convalesce at Hastings.1814 saw him touring the Lake District again and in 1818 he visited Scotland. He was first elected President of OWS in 1816, again in 1819 and for a third time in 1821, remaining in that post for ten years until 1831.
In 1822 Cristall and his wife Elizabeth (nee Cozens) left London for Goodrich in Herefordshire where he found inspiration in the local scenery and painted the local people especially the fern burners on Coppet Hill. He returned to London in 1841 following his wife's death in 1839 and continued working and exhibiting until his own death in 1847. He was buried alongside his wife in Goodrich.
It was not until 1975 that a comprehensive exhibition devoted to his work was held at the Victoria & Albert Museum (selected and catalogued by Basil Taylor) which included approximately 300 works from the V&A and other public collections. The historian of Cristall, W G S DYER, made his private collection available to this historic exhibition. Garfield DYER also wrote the accompanying pamphlet for the exhibition of Cristall's work at the Camborne Public Library in 1962.