Wright, John Michael (DNB00)
|←Wright, John Masey|| Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63
Wright, John Michael
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WRIGHT, JOHN MICHAEL (1625?–1700), portrait-painter, born about 1625 in Scotland, is stated to have been a pupil of George Jamesone [q. v.], and to have come to England at the age of seventeen. Soon afterwards he went to Italy and resided there for some years. He was elected in 1648 a member of the academy of St. Luke at Florence, and was also a member of the academy at Rome. While at Rome he copied the triple portrait of Charles I by Van Dyck, which had been sent to Bernini the sculptor. He returned to England during the Commonwealth and executed several excellent portraits, including one of Elizabeth Claypole, Cromwell's favourite daughter, painted in 1658, and now in the National Portrait Gallery, London. A portrait of General Monck at Ham House h signed and dated 1659. Other portraits of Monck painted by Wright are at Longleat, Cambridge, and elsewhere.
After the Restoration Wright became a leading painter in London and a rival of Lely. His portraits are well and solidly painted, and show much character, as may be seen from the portraits of Thomas Hobbes [q. v.] and Thomas Chiffinch [q. v.] in the National Portrait Gallery, London. John Evelyn [q. v.] the diarist notes that ‘1659, 5 April, came the Earle of Northampton and the famous painter Mr. Wright;’ and ‘1662, 3 October. Visited Mr Wright, a Scotsman, who had liv'd long at Rome and was esteem'd a good painter.’ Wright painted some decorative pictures for Charles II at Whitehall. Evelyn alludes to these and to a triple portrait of John Lacy (d. 1681) [q. v.], the famous comedian, as Parson Simple in the ‘Cheats,’ Sandy in the ‘Taming of the Shrew,’ and Monsieur de Vice in the ‘Country Captain;’ this picture, painted in 1675, is now at Hampton Court. Samuel Pepys [q. v.] preferred Lely, for, after seeing Lady Castlemaine's portrait in Lely's studio, he says in his ‘Diary’ for 18 June 1602: ‘Thence to Mr. Wright's, the painter; but Lord! the difference that is between their two works!’ Probably Wright was painting Lady Castlemaine too. After the great fire of London in 1666 great assistance was rendered to the corporation of London by Sir Matthew Hale [q. v.] and other judges in settling the difficult questions of property arising from the disaster. In 1670 the corporation of London determined to commemorate this action by having the portraits of all the judges, twentytwo in number, painted to be hung in the Guildhall or some other public place. Sir Peter Lely was invited to undertake this task, but declined to attend upon the judges. The commission was therefore given to Wright, who executed the greater number of the portraits, all at full length, during the next three or four years. Evelyn, in his ‘Diary’ for 31 July 1673, notes that he ‘went to see the judges newly set up in Guildhall.’ These portraits were restored and repainted by one Spiridione Homa in 1779.
In 1672 Wright painted for Sir Robert Vyner a full-length portrait of Prince Rupert, which is now at Magdalen College, Oxford. He painted many portraits of the gentry and nobility, which are to be foundin private collections, such as those of Lord Bagot, the Earl of Bradford, Lord Talbot de Malahide, and others. They are painted with a quiet strength and dignity which contrast with the graces and conventions of the fashions of the time.
In 1686 Wright, probably on account of his knowledge of Italian and previous residence in Italy, was appointed ‘majordomo’ in the suite of Roger Palmer, earl of Castlemaine [q. v.], upon his abortive embassy from James II to Innocent XI at Rome. The embassy arrived at Rome in January 1687. Wright, who seems to have remained at Rome for some time later than the embassy, published in Italian a fulsome, though not uninteresting, account of the embassy and its reception in Rome, with illustrations. It was entitled ‘Ragguaglio della solenne comparsa fatta in Roma,’ Rome , fol. An English version of this was prepared in 1688 (London, fol.) by Nahum Tate [q. v.] On his return to England Wright found that his most dangerous rival, Sir Godfrey Kneller [q, v.], had established himself firmly in popular favour and fashionable patronage. Wright therefore lost his ground, and when, not long before his death, he solicited the post of king's limner in Scotland, he was unsuccessful. He died in 1700 in James Street, Covent Garden, and was buried in the St. Paul's Church close by.
Owing to his habit of signing his name in Latin, ‘J. M. Ritus,’ with the initials con- joined, his name has been the source of perplexity to many art historians. Wright had a valuable collection of agates, gems, shells, &c., mostly collected in Italy, and noticed by Evelyn; this collection he disposed of to Sir Hans Sloane [q. v.], with whose other treasures it passed into the British Museum.
Wright had a son, whom he established at Rome as a teacher of languages. His brother, Jeremiah Wright, was also a painter, who assisted in the accessories of the judges' portraits in the Guildhall. A nephew, John Michael Wright, settled in Ireland and practised with some success as a portrait-painter there. In the collection of the Earl of Powis there is a portrait of the Earl of Castlemaine, standing and dictating to his secretary; the latter is probably Wright, and the whole picture painted by himself.[Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting, ed. Wornum, with manuscript notes by Sir George Scharf; Pepys's and Evelyn's Diaries; De Piles's Lives of the Painters; Brydall's Hist. of Art in Scotland; Seguier's Dict. of Painters; Price's Descriptive Account of the Guildhall.]