Stothard, Thomas (DNB00)
|←Stothard, Charles Alfred||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54
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STOTHARD, THOMAS (1755–1834), painter and book-illustrator, the son of a publican, was born at the Black Horse Inn, Long Acre, London, on 17 Aug. 1755. His father was a native of Stutton, near Tadcaster, and his mother, whose maiden name was Reynolds, came from Shrewsbury. They removed from Stutton to London in 1750. Being delicate, Stothard was sent to his uncle at York, who placed him with an old lady, named Stainburn, at Acomb, where he copied some prints by Strange and Houbraken. At eight years old he was sent to two old aunts at Stutton, and went to a day school at Tadcaster. When thirteen his father brought him to London and sent him to a boarding-school at Ilford, Essex, where he was half starved, and took dancing lessons from the father of the celebrated clown, Joseph Grimaldi. His father died in 1770, leaving a provision for his mother and 1,200l. to himself. His mother lived at Stepney Green, and Stothard was apprenticed to a draughtsman of patterns for flowered silks in Spital Square, Spitalfields. The fashion for these silks declining, he employed his leisure in making designs from Homer and Spenser, being encouraged thereto by his master, who died before his apprenticeship was out. He appears to have remained with his master's widow after this, as it was at her house that his drawings attracted the attention of Mr. Harrison, the publisher of the ‘Novelist's’ and the ‘Poetical’ magazines, who gave him his first commission for an illustration, but he was not regularly engaged by Harrison till about 1779. Meanwhile he gave up the pattern business and entered the schools of the Royal Academy (1777). In this year he exhibited at the Society of Artists two Welsh landscapes, and ‘A Battle’ from Homer. He was then living at Mr. Somner's (or Sumners) near The Blind Beggar, at Bethnal Green. About this time he formed a friendship with Samuel Shelley [q. v.], with whom he took lodgings in the Strand in 1778, when he commenced to exhibit at the Royal Academy, sending a picture of ‘The Holy Family.’ He added to his slender income by painting small family portraits, and frequently visited the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, from whom and from Richard Wilson, the landscape-painter, he received encouragement and advice.
In 1779 Stothard commenced his career as an illustrator of books, being employed to illustrate ‘Ossian’ and Hervey's ‘Naval History.’ But his principal employers were Bell and Harrison, and in this year his numerous designs for Bell's ‘Poets’ and Harrison's ‘Novelist's Magazine’ began to be published. The first of the latter was a scene from ‘Joseph Andrews’ (dated 1 Dec.), and in the following year he made no less than 148 drawings for this publication, for which he was paid a guinea apiece. He also made many drawings for the ‘Ladies' Magazine’ in this and the following years, and a number of small but spirited drawings of the famous actors and actresses of the day. Among the prose works illustrated by him were novels by Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, and Sterne, Ridley's ‘Tales of the Genii,’ Paltock's ‘Peter Wilkins,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘Gil Blas,’ ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ the ‘Arabian Nights,’ the ‘Vicar of Wakefield,’ and ‘Gulliver's Travels.’ These designs made a new departure in book illustration by their variety of invention, their literary sympathy, their spirit and their grace. Those to ‘Peregrine Pickle’ and ‘Peter Wilkins’ have been specially admired, but Stothard never surpassed those to ‘Clarissa Harlowe’ for elegance, or those to ‘Tristram Shandy’ for delicate humour. He may be said to have founded the types of Sancho Panza and Uncle Toby, afterwards adopted by his friend Charles Robert Leslie [q. v.] and others. To this period also belong a few charming illustrations to Ritson's ‘Songs’ (1783). A little later (1788–9) came his illustrations to the ‘Pilgrim's Progress,’ in which he found a region of pure but very human allegory well suited to his gentle imagination.
Some larger prints published separately about this time included ‘The Power of Innocence,’ illustrations of ‘Cecilia,’ the ‘Sorrows of Werther,’ ‘Caroline de Lichtfield,’ and a few classical and allegorical pieces, as ‘Callisto’ and ‘Zephyrus and Flora.’ The last two were engraved by William Blake [q. v.], at this time a friend of Stothard, and often employed to engrave his designs. To 1790 belong his illustrations to ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ published by John Stockdale, and engraved by Medland, a series of great beauty (reingraved by C. Heath, and published by Cadell thirty years later); and also a set of six charming groups of children at school and at play. Besides these more important designs, he executed a number of headpieces, tailpieces, frontispieces, and vignettes of all kinds, including some charming miniature drawings of royal festivities. He designed even shop-cards and fashion plates, for, though popular, he was poorly paid, and, having married in 1783, had to provide for an increasing family.
For some years Stothard's contributions to the Royal Academy consisted principally of designs from poets and novelists, and he sent none from 1786 to 1791. In the latter year the exhibition of ‘Friars, a Conversation,’ and three historical pictures (‘Marriage of Henry the Fifth with Catherine of France,’ and two from the life of Richard I), was followed by his election as an associate. It is said that after this his contributions to the academy exhibitions were generally painted in oils. It was at this time that he was employed upon Macklin's bible, for which he painted ‘Jacob's Dream,’ ‘Ruth and Boaz,’ and ‘St. John preaching in the Wilderness.’ In 1792 he exhibited ‘A Confirmation,’ one of his elegant illustrations of the Book of Common Prayer, which was published by Harding in that year. In 1793, besides six paintings from Telemachus, came the exquisite little picture of ‘The Dryads finding Narcissus,’ which is now in the National Gallery. These years, 1792–3, are memorable for the appearance of his designs to Milton, which were engraved by Bartolozzi, and perhaps show more than any other of his works the true limits of his genius. It was far more at home in ‘Paradise’ than ‘Pandemonium,’ but his ‘Sin’ and ‘Death’ are finely conceived. It was in 1793 also that his first illustrations to Rogers's ‘Pleasures of Memory’ were executed. The first edition of the poem in the British Museum, illustrated by Stothard, is dated 1794, but there are two engravings in the print-room—one of them the delightful ‘Hunt the Slipper’—which are dated 1793.
Stothard was elected an academician in 1794, and removed from Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, to 28 Newman Street, where he remained till his death. He purchased the house and furniture out of the capital left him by his father. About this time he began a series of a dozen or more pictures of historical events for Bowyer's ‘Historic Gallery’ or illustrated edition of Hume, on which he appears to have been engaged for ten years at least (1795–1805). They range from the ‘Suppression of the Monasteries’ to the ‘Landing of William III at Torbay.’ They are of no great merit, but one of them, ‘The Smothering of the Princes in the Tower’ (dated 1795), is interesting from its likeness to Chantrey's famous ‘Sleeping Children’ in Lichfield Cathedral (which is said to have been designed by Stothard); the pose of the children had, however, been anticipated in Northcote's ‘Murder of the Princes in the Tower,’ exhibited in 1786 (cf. Mrs. Bray, Thomas Stothard, p. 184 n.) In 1796 he exhibited ‘A Victory,’ which he kept till his death, and regarded as his finest painting, and in this year appeared his illustrations to the ‘Fables of Flora,’ which are remarkable for the gracefulness of their fancy and the beautiful drawing of the flowers. In 1798 were published his beautiful illustrations to Pope's ‘Rape of the Lock,’ in 1790 the ‘Seven Ages’ from Shakespeare, and by the close of the century he may be said to have almost covered his field of illustration, though he often went over the same ground again for different publishers. He illustrated Shakespeare, e.g. for Tegg, Bell, Boydell (three plates only), Kearsley, Heath, and Pickering; the ‘Spectator,’ and many poets and novelists for John Sharpe; Spenser for Kearsley, Burns for Cadell and Davies (he visited Scotland for the purpose in 1809), Byron for John Murray, a number of poets for the Chiswick Press, some of the ‘Waverley’ novels, and Rogers over and over again; but, excepting perhaps by the Watteau-like fancy of scenes from the ‘Decameron,’ a number of which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1819 and 1820, he added little to his known accomplishment as a book-illustrator. This was not, however, his only employment. In 1799 he commenced the decoration of the grand staircase at Burghley House, near Stamford, for the Marquis of Exeter. The subjects of his designs are ‘War,’ ‘Intemperance’ (‘Antony and Cleopatra’), and the ‘Descent of Orpheus into Hell,’ and the figures are much larger than life. He exhibited sketches for this work in 1806 and 1810, one of which is now in the National Gallery. The execution of this important commission occupied the summers of four years, during which he lost his mother, who lived with him.
In 1806 Stothard received a commission from Cromek the engraver to paint his famous picture of the ‘Canterbury Pilgrims setting forth from the Tabard Inn.’ The subject had been treated before by Stothard for Ritson, but Cromek had previously offered the commission to William Blake, and hence ensued a lamentable breach between the two old friends which was never healed [see Blake, William, (1757–1827), and Cromek, Robert Hartley]. The picture (now, with many sketches for it, in the National Gallery) was exhibited in 1807 in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and drew crowds. The engraving was entrusted to Luigi Schiavonetti [q. v.], who etched the plate and engraved wholly or in part some of the figures. After his death it was being worked upon by Francis Engleheart [q. v.] when Cromek died (1812). It was next given to Niccolò Schiavonetti, who had not finished it at his death in 1813, and it was finally completed by James Heath [q. v.] and published in October 1817, some years after Blake's rival engraving. Its success was enormous, but Stothard had no share in the profits. All he received was 60l. from Cromek for the picture, which Cromek sold to Hart Davis for 300l. Cromek promised him an extra 40l., but never paid it, and Stothard did not like to press the widow for it. She gave him some copies of the engraving. Stothard made a copy of the picture for Samuel Rogers, and another, lengthened and altered, for Mr. Benson of Doncaster. He is also said to have made a third copy, which was perhaps that exhibited by Lady Marian Alford at the winter exhibition of old masters at the Royal Academy in 1872.
During these years his taste was frequently consulted in the decoration of the houses of his wealthy friends and patrons, of whom Samuel Rogers was the earliest and most constant. Stothard helped in the decoration of Rogers's house in St. James's Place (built 1803), and in the illustration of successive editions of his poems for over forty years. In the most elaborate editions of Rogers's ‘Italy’ (1830) and the ‘Poems’ (1834) Stothard joined with Turner in contributing illustrations, which were engraved on steel by Finden and others. The smaller engravings on wood by Luke Clennell (the first of which appeared in Rogers's ‘Pleasures of Memory,’ 1810) are justly prized for their close imitation of Stothard's beautiful touch with the pen. Less known are the little illustrations of the ‘Pleasures of Memory’ (1808) and ‘Human Life’ (1810) in the ‘Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas,’ an annual for which he provided the headpieces for many years. Other patrons (and friends also) were Robert Markham (archdeacon of York), Thomas Hope, William Beckford of Fonthill, Samuel Boddington, whose children he painted, and Colonel Johnes of Hafod, whose library he decorated (1810) with eight scenes from Froissart and Monstrelet in imitation of sculpture. He also designed the monument (executed by Chantrey) for Johnes's daughter, his own pupil, who died in 1811.
In 1812 he was appointed librarian of the Royal Academy, after acting as deputy for two years. In 1814 he successfully competed for the silver shield to be presented by the merchants and bankers of London to the Duke of Wellington in commemoration of his victories. His design for this elaborate work, well known as the ‘Wellington Shield,’ was prepared in three weeks, and excited great admiration. He also executed the models for the silversmiths Green, Ward, & Green, and made etchings of the designs. Among his miscellaneous works are many other designs for silver plate, such as salvers, knife-handles, and decanter-tables of much elegance, prepared for Rundle & Bridge; and he designed the reverse of the gold medal of the Royal Academy, and the monument to Garrick in Westminster Abbey. He also designed transparencies—one for Rundle & Bridge on the occasion of the jubilee of George III (1810), and two in 1814 to celebrate the peace. One of the latter was for the ‘Temple of Concord’ in Hyde Park, and the other for a fête at Carlton House.
In 1815 Stothard went over to Paris with Chantrey and others, and visited the Louvre before the dispersion of Napoleon's spoils. In 1817 and 1818 respectively he exhibited ‘San Souci’ and ‘Fête Champêtre,’ in which the influence of Watteau is perceptible. They were followed in 1819 by the illustrations to ‘Boccaccio’ (published 1825) already referred to. In 1821 he exhibited ‘The Vintage’ (now in the National Gallery), a refined Bacchanalian composition with figures of larger size than he usually introduced into his easel pictures. It was in this year that he sustained a severe shock from the sudden death of his son, Charles Alfred. This is said to have had a permanent effect on his spirits, but in the next year he executed his most important decorative work, if we except the staircase at Burghley. Between 4 June and 1 Aug. 1822 he painted the cupola of the upper hall of the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh (now occupied by the Signet Library), with Apollo, the muses, orators, and poets, for which he received three hundred guineas or more. In 1824 appeared ‘Venus with Cupid, attended by the Graces,’ his last contribution of importance to the exhibitions of the Royal Academy. In 1825 his wife died, and in 1826 he lost his lifelong friend, Flaxman, who had in early life been attracted to him by the sight of some of his book illustrations in a shop window. His last important designs were for the decoration of the drawing-room, the great staircase, and the throne-room of Buckingham Palace. The subjects for the first were allegorical, and for the others the wars of the roses. They were to have been executed in sculpture, but with the death of George IV in 1830 the scheme fell through. In spite of failing strength he still went on working, his principal effort being the drawing for ‘The Flitch of Bacon,’ a companion to the ‘Canterbury Pilgrims,’ which was engraved by J. H. Watt, and published in 1832. He continued to walk out alone, in spite of his weakness and deafness, till the close of the autumn of 1833, when he was knocked over by a carriage. He sustained no apparent injury from the accident, but he never recovered from the effects of it, and died without any actual disease at his house, 28 Newman Street, on 27 April 1834. He was buried in Bunhill Fields.
Stothard married, in 1783, Rebecca Watkins, by whom he had in all eleven children, of whom six survived infancy. The eldest son, Thomas, was accidentally shot by a schoolfellow when sixteen. The next son, Charles Alfred [q. v.], is noticed separately. The third son, Henry, who was intended for a sculptor, gained the first medal in the antique school at the Royal Academy, and was a pupil of Flaxman; but, having been incapacitated by paralysis, he had to give up his profession, and in 1840, through Queen Adelaide, gained admission to the Charterhouse, where he died on 26 Feb. 1847, aged 56. A younger son, Alfred Joseph, was known as a medallist; he executed medallions of George IV, Byron, Canning, and Sir Walter Scott, exhibiting twenty works at the academy between 1821 and 1845; he died on 6 Oct. 1864, aged 71.
The works of art in the painter's possession at his death were sold at Christie's in June 1834. They included a hundred of his pictures in oil and upwards of a thousand sketches, which realised about 1,900l. The enormous number of his designs, which are estimated at five thousand (Mrs. Bray says ten thousand), is enough to prove his industry, and it is recorded that even on his wedding day he attended the academy schools, and casually asked a fellow-student to come home and dine with him and his bride in order to celebrate that event. He was a great reader, and never tired of observing nature; and he was fond of hunting butterflies, whose wings he studied for their beautiful arrangements of colour. Stothard's life appears to have been as pure and blameless as the art to which it was devoted. His disposition was retiring, and he did not seek society; but he was justly esteemed by his fellow-artists and his few intimate friends. He paid visits to Archdeacon Markham and other of his friends; he went once to Paris; but his art supplied him with sufficient pleasure to the end of his life. As Leigh Hunt said of him in his last days, ‘an angel dwelt in that tottering house amidst the wintry bowers of white locks, warming it to the last with summer fancies.’
Stothard was not much regarded as a painter in his lifetime; he sent comparatively few pictures to the academy, and most of these were very small; but as a colourist he was always pure, and sometimes lovely. It was as an illustrator and ‘embellisher’ of books that he attained a place which is second to none for invention and for grace. He followed in the wake of Cipriani and Angelica Kauffmann, but he raised the prettiness of their school above insipidity and affectation. By constant study of nature and his affinity for all that was pure and beautiful in older art (especially the Elgin marbles and the designs of Raphael and Rubens) he formed a style of his own which, in spite of some mannerism, has exercised an unabated charm from his own day to the present. He illustrated almost the whole range of English literature with a taste that seldom failed and a sympathy that was often remarkable. He was deficient in vigour and passion, but he had an exquisite sense of beauty; and his drawing, if not always accurate in detail, was of exceeding grace. He had a true genius for composition and excelled in tender pathos and gentle humour, and in the rendering of virginal purity, womanly grace, and the charms of childhood he has few rivals.
More than three thousand of Stothard's designs were engraved, and nearly all of them are to be found in the Balmanno collection at the British Museum, where are also other engravings after Stothard and a number of drawings. There are many of his pictures in the National Gallery and at South Kensington Museum, principally from the Vernon and Sheepshanks collections.
There are several portraits of Stothard. He introduced himself, his wife, and his son Alfred into a picture of ‘Speech-Day at Christ's Hospital,’ exhibited in 1799. There are later portraits by Harlow, Jackson, and Wood, and busts by Chantrey, Baily, and Behnes.
[Mrs. Bray's Life of Thomas Stothard, R.A., 1851 (with lithographed portrait after Harlow), and the same writer's Memoir of Charles A. Stothard; Cunningham's Lives of Painters, ed. Heaton; Magazine of the Fine Arts, 1833; Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica; Redgrave's Dict.; Redgraves' Century; Bryan's Dict. ed. Armstrong; Pilkington's Dict.; Gilchrist's Life of Blake; Letters of James Smetham; Wedmore's Studies in English Art, 1st ser.; Dobson's Eighteenth-Century Vignettes, 1st ser. (‘The Quaker of Art’); Colvin's Children in Italian and English Design; Monkhouse's Earlier English Watercolorists; Sandby's Hist. of the Royal Academy; Catalogues of the National Gallery and South Kensington Museum.]