Robert, the twin brother of John Cleveley, was brought up in the Dockyard at Deptford where he acquired his precise knowledge of shipping. There is no evidence that he was taught by Paul Sandby, as his brother was, but he certainly absorbed from his brother the results of that instruction. He worked in the tradition of the Van de Veldes but his art diverges from a purely marine influence because of his innate skill at figure drawing, which rivalled that of artists like Edward Dayes. His 1792 celebration of the birthday of the Duke of Clarence, for example, is drawn on a vast scale and contains a host of fashionable spectators, attending a rowing match in the Duke’s honour. He seems to have been in royal service in his early years and, like his brother, he travelled widely. A rarer artist than John, he gives tantalising glimpses of a more varied artistic skill, for, together with figure drawing, he could also have been a topographer of merit.
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