Serres, John Thomas (DNB00)

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SERRES, JOHN THOMAS (1759–1825), marine-painter, elder son of Dominic Serres [q. v.], was born in December 1759, and followed his father's profession. He was for some time drawing-master to a marine school at Chelsea. In 1780 he began to exhibit at the Royal Academy, sending two water-colour views and a painting of Sir George Rodney engaging the Spanish squadron. In 1790 he went to Italy, visiting Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, Genoa, Pisa, Florence, and Rome, where he passed five months, and then proceeded to Naples. After an absence of a little more than a year, he was recalled to England by a letter from Miss Olive Wilmot, the daughter of a house-painter at Warwick, to whom he had engaged himself before he left England, and whom he married, against the wishes of his friends, 17 Sept. 1791 [see Serres, Mrs. Olivia].

In 1793 he succeeded his father as marine-painter to the king, and was also appointed marine draughtsman to the admiralty. In the latter capacity he was frequently employed in making sketches of the harbours on the enemy's coast, and had a vessel appointed for his service, receiving 100l. a month when on duty. He also contributed regularly (chiefly shipping and marine subjects) to the exhibitions of the Royal Academy till 1808. In 1801 he published a translation of ‘The Little Sea-torch,’ a guide for coasting ships, illustrated by a large number of coloured aquatints, and in 1805 his ‘Liber Nauticus,’ or instructor in the art of marine-drawing.

He saved a good deal of money, but was ruined by the intrigues and extravagance of his wife. He was separated from her (by deed) in 1804, and in 1808 went to Edinburgh to escape the persecutions to which he was still subjected from her, ceasing to contribute to the Royal Academy for seven years. But it was of no avail; he was arrested and thrown into prison, and, the same round of persecutions continuing, he was driven to make an attempt at suicide, which was happily frustrated. The failure of the speculation for building the Coburg Theatre, in which he had invested 2,000l. of his savings, obliged him to take advantage of the Insolvent Act. He exhibited again at the Royal Academy in 1817, and occasionally exhibited there and elsewhere till his death; but his wife's pretensions to be Princess Olive of Cumberland, though they received no support from him, had deprived him of the royal favour, which he never regained. Teaching now became his chief occupation and support. Broken in spirit and health, he laboured on in prison till he became seriously ill with a tumour. He was moved into the rules of the king's bench, but the removal hastened his death, which took place on 28 Dec. 1825. In his will he declared his wife's pretensions to be wholly without foundation. He was buried beside his father. He was a clever artist, and his pictures have lasted much better than his father's.

Some watercolour drawings by John Thomas Serres, and a ‘View of the Lighthouse in the Bay of Dublin, with His Majesty's Yacht, Dorset,’ in oils, dated 1788, are in the South Kensington Museum.

His younger brother, Dominic, landscape-painter and drawing-master, exhibited nine works at the Royal Academy between 1778 and 1804, but late in life fell into a hopeless despondency, lost his employment, and was supported by his brother.

[An exculpatory memoir by ‘A Friend,’ 1826; Redgrave's Dict.; Graves's (Algernon) Dict.; Redgraves' Century; Cat. of Oil Pictures in South Kensington Museum.]

C. M.