Sherwin, John Keyse (DNB00)

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SHERWIN, JOHN KEYSE (1751?–1790), draughtsman and engraver, was born about 1751 at East Dean, Sussex, where his father, a labourer, was employed in cutting wooden bolts for ships; he himself followed the same calling on the estate of William Mitford, near Petworth, until 1769, when that gentleman, having discovered his artistic talent, sent one of his drawings to the Society of Arts, where it was awarded a silver medal. He was then enabled to go to London, where he studied painting under John Astley [q. v.], and engraving under Bartolozzi, with whom he remained until 1774. He was also admitted to the schools of the Royal Academy, and in 1772 gained the gold medal for an historical picture. Sherwin's first published plate, the Madonna, after Sassoferrato, dated 1775, was executed in stipple, and he afterwards occasionally employed the same method; but most of his plates are in pure line. Between 1774 and 1784 he exhibited at the Royal Academy fancy subjects and portraits, tastefully drawn in black and red chalk, which attracted notice and brought him much fashionable patronage; but though a facile and dexterous draughtsman he had little power of original composition, and his more ambitious designs are weak and mannered. From them he engraved many plates, of which the best known is the ‘Finding of Moses,’ published in 1789; in this there is no attempt at serious historic treatment, the subject being only a device for grouping together the portraits of the leading beauties of the day, the princess royal personating Pharaoh's daughter, and the Duchesses of Rutland and Devonshire, Lady Duncannon, Lady Jersey, Mrs. Townley Ward, and other ladies her attendants. During the progress of this work Sherwin's studio was thronged by ladies of fashion, who eagerly competed for the honour of appearing in it. His other original plates include ‘The Happy Village’ and ‘The Deserted Village,’ a pair, 1787; ‘A View of Gibraltar, with the Spanish Battering Ships on Fire,’ 1784; ‘The House of Peers on the 7th April 1778, when the Earl of Chatham was taken ill;’ and ‘The Installation Dinner at the Institution of the Order of St. Patrick in 1783;’ the last two were left unfinished at his death, and completed by others. He also designed and engraved some pretty admission tickets for concerts and public functions, and in 1782 published a pair of portraits of Mrs. Siddons and Mrs. Hartley, which he executed directly on the copper without any previous drawings. But it was as an engraver from pictures by the great masters that Sherwin justly earned distinction, and his plates of this class rank with those by the best of his contemporaries. The most important are: ‘Christ bearing his Cross’ and ‘Christ appearing to the Magdalen,’ from the paintings by Guido at Magdalen and All Souls,’ Oxford; the ‘Holy Family,’ after N. Poussin; portrait of the Duchess of Rutland, after Reynolds; ‘Death of Lord Robert Manners,’ after Stothard; portrait of the Marquis of Buckingham, after Gainsborough; and (his finest work) ‘The Fortune-teller,’ after Reynolds. His portraits of Lord Chatham, Captain Cook, Bishop Lowth, Sir J. Reynolds, and W. Woollett are also of fine quality. On the death of Woollett in 1785 Sherwin succeeded him as engraver to the king, and he was also appointed engraver to the Prince of Wales. Sherwin's career was marred by his extravagant and vicious habits, which destroyed his constitution and kept him in constant pecuniary difficulties; eventually he was compelled to seek refuge from his creditors in the house of Wilkinson the printseller in Cornhill, and he died at a small alehouse in Oxford Road, London, on 20 Sept. 1790, at the age of thirty-nine. A portrait of Sherwin, from a drawing by himself, was published in 1794.

His brother, Charles Sherwin (fl. 1780), worked chiefly as his assistant, but engraved independently the portrait of Captain W. Dampier, from the picture by Murray, now in the National Portrait Gallery; also portraits of Viscount Folkestone, after Gainsborough, and George Cleghorn, M.D., and a few of the plates to ‘Bell's British Library.’ [Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Bryan's Dict. of Painters and Engravers, ed. Stanley; Dayes's Sketches of Modern Artists; Smith's Nollekens and his Times; Dodd's manuscript Hist. of Engravers in Brit. Mus. (Addit. MS. 33404); Gent. Mag. 1790, ii. 866.]

F. M. O'D.