Greenhill, John (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 23
Greenhill, John

by Lionel Henry Cust
Contains subarticle on his younger brother Henry Greenhill (1646-1708)

GREENHILL, JOHN (1644?–1676) portrait-painter, born at Salisbury about 1644, was eldest son of John Greenhill, registrar of the diocese of Salisbury, and Penelope, daughter of Richard Champneys of Orchardleigh, Somersetshire. His grand-father was Henry Greenhill of Steeple Ashton, Wiltshire. His father was connected through his brothers with the East India trade. Greenhill's first essay in painting was a portrait of his paternal uncle, James Abbott of Salisbury, whom he is said to have sketched surreptitiously, as the old man would not sit. About 1662 he migrated to London, and became a pupil of Sir Peter Lely. His progress was rapid, and he acquired some of Lely's skill and method. He carefully studied Vandyck's portraits, and Vertue narrates that he copied so closely Vandyck's portrait of Killigrew with a dog that it was difficult to know which was the original. Vertue also says that his progress excited Lely's jealousy. Greenhill was at first industrious, and married early. But a taste for poetry and the drama, and a residence in Covent Garden in the vicinity of the theatres, led him to associate with many members of the free-living theatrical world, and he fell into irregular habits. On 19 May 1676, while returning from the Vine Tavern in a state of intoxication, he fell into the gutter in Long Acre, and was carried to his lodgings in Lincoln's Inn Fields, where he died the same night. He was buried in St. Giles's-in-the-Fields. He left a widow and family, to whom Lely gave an annuity. Greenhill's portraits are of great merit, often approaching those of Lely in excellence. Among his chief sitters were Bishop Seth Ward, in the town hall at Salisbury, painted in 1673; Anthony Ashley, earl of Shaftesbury, painted more than once during his chancellorship in 1672, engraved by Blooteling; John Locke, who wrote some verses in Greenhill's praise, engraved by Pieter van Gunst; Sir William D'Avenant, engraved by Faithorne; Philip Woolrich, engraved in mezzotint by Francis Place; Abraham Cowley, Admiral Spragge, and others. At Dulwich there is a portrait of Greenhill by himself (engraved in Wornum's edition of Walpole's 'Anecdotes of Painting'), James, duke of York, and those of William Cartwright (who bequeathed the collection) and of Charles II are attributed to him. In the National Portrait Gallery there are portraits of Charles II and Shaftesbury. In the print room at the British Museum there is a drawing of Greenhill by Lely, and a similar drawing by himself; also a rare etched portrait of his brother, Henry Greenhill [see below], executed in 1667. In the Dyce collection at the South Kensington Museum there is a drawing of George Digby, earl of Bristol, and at Peckforton drawings of Sir Robert Worsley and the Countess of Gainsborough. Among Greenhill's personal admirers was Mrs. Behn [q. v. ], who kept up an amorous correspondence with him, and lamented his early death in a fulsome panegyric.

Henry Greenhill (1646-1708), younger brother of the above, born at Salisbury 21 June 1646, distinguished himself in the merchant service in the West Indies, and was rewarded by the admiralty. He was appointed by the Royal African Company governor of the Gold Coast. In 1685 he was elected an elder brother of the Trinity House, in 1689 commissioner of the transport office, and in 1691 one of the principal commissioners of the navy. The building of Plymouth dockyard was completed under his direction. He received a mourning ring under Samuel Pepys's will. He died 24 May 1708, and was buried at Stockton, Wiltshire, where there is a monument to his memory.

[Hoare's Hist. of Modern Wiltshire, vi. 629; Wiltshire Archæological Mag. xii. 105; Vertue's MSS.(Brit.Mus.Addit.MSS. 23068, &c.); Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting, ed. Dallaway and Wornum; De Piles's Lives of the Painters; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; information from G. Scharf, C.B.]

L. C.