Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Highmore, Joseph

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HIGHMORE, JOSEPH (1692–1780), painter, third son of Edward Highmore, a coal merchant in Thames Street, London, was born in the parish of St. James, Garlickhithe, on 13 June 1692. As he showed at an early age a strong predilection for painting, his father wished to place him under an uncle, Thomas Highmore [q. v.], the serjeant-painter. This fell through, and Highmore was articled to an attorney for seven years on 18 July 1707. His natural taste for drawing, however, declared itself, and he spent his leisure hours in studying geometry, perspective, &c., and attending the anatomical lectures of Dr. Cheselden. He eventually entered himself as a student in the new academy of painting in Great Queen Street, where he worked for ten years, and gained the special notice of its director, Sir Godfrey Kneller. On the expiration of his apprenticeship he took up painting as a profession, and in March 1715 settled in the city. As his practice increased he removed his establishment to Lincoln's Inn Fields, where he lived for many years. Highmore was noted by his contemporaries for his study of the scientific side of his art, and his sobriety, independence, and steadfastness of judgment (see Vertue's MSS. Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 23076). He was a careful student of perspective, and grounded his system on Dr. Brook Taylor's ‘Linear Perspective.’ He made some drawings for Cheselden's ‘Anatomy,’ published in 1722. His first important work was the series of portrait-drawings which he undertook for ‘The Installation of the Knights of the Bath on June 17, 1725,’ by John Pine [q. v.] the engraver. Highmore made careful studies of portraits for this work; his portrait of the Duke of Richmond and his three esquires is now at Goodwood. Highmore was employed by the king to paint the portrait of Prince William, afterwards Duke of Cumberland, and also painted the Prince and Princess of Wales. He did not succeed in getting sittings from the king and queen, but from frequent observation composed portraits of them, which were engraved, and enjoyed some popularity. In the same way he executed portraits of the Duke of Lorraine and the Misses Gunning. In 1744 he painted a series of twelve illustrations to Richardson's ‘Pamela;’ these were engraved by A. Benoist and L. Truchy, and excited much notice. He also painted Richardson himself; one version is in the National Portrait Gallery, and another, with a companion picture of the novelist's wife, hangs in Stationers' Hall. Among other notabilities painted by him were the queen of Denmark, General Wolfe when young, Dr. Young, Heidegger, Sir James Thornhill, Thomas Hollis (of Harvard College), and the Rev. Henry Stebbing, the last being in the National Portrait Gallery. At Revesby Abbey, Lincolnshire, also, there are some good portraits by Highmore. He painted his faces rapidly at one sitting, if possible, and obtained good likenesses, though with some sacrifice of grace and elegance. His conversation-pieces were notable, and much of his work has been ascribed to Hogarth. He painted subject-pictures with less success, such as ‘Hagar and Ishmael,’ which he presented to the Foundling Hospital, ‘The Good Samaritan,’ ‘The Finding of Moses,’ ‘The Graces unveiling Nature,’ &c. Many of his portraits were engraved in mezzotint by J. Faber, jun., and others.

Highmore was also a prolific author, and wrote numerous essays on literary and religious questions, some of which were published in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’ He published two valuable pamphlets on perspective, viz. ‘A Critical Examination of the Ceiling painted by Rubens in the Banqueting House,’ 1754, 4to, and ‘The Practice of Perspective on the Principles of Dr. Brook Taylor,’ 1763. In these pamphlets, written some years before publication, Highmore criticised the views of Dr. Taylor and others with some force. In 1761, on the marriage of his daughter Susanna to the Rev. John Duncombe of Canterbury, Highmore retired from his profession, sold his collection of pictures, and in 1762 removed to their house at Canterbury, where he spent the rest of his life. He died in March 1780, and was buried in the cathedral ‘in the Body of the Church, and wrapped in sheep's wool’ (Harl. Soc. Publications, Register Canterbury Cathedral). He also left by his wife Susanna, daughter of Anthony Hiller, one son, Anthony (see below). Highmore was a man of mark in his day, agreeable in conversation, sound in learning, a traveller, and, if not an interesting painter, a faithful adherent to his own system of painting. An etched portrait, done by himself, is said to be his own portrait.

Highmore, Anthony (1719–1799), draughtsman, only son of the above, drew five views of Hampton Court, which were engraved by J. Tinney. He was deaf, and resided principally at Canterbury, where he occupied himself with the study of theology. He married early in life Anna Maria, daughter of the Rev. Seth Ellis of Brampton, Derbyshire, and died on 3 Oct. 1799, in his eighty-first year. They had fifteen children, one of whom was Anthony Highmore [q. v.]

[Gent. Mag. 1. (1780) 154, lxix. (1799) 905; Vertue's MSS. (Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 23068, &c.); Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Seguier's Dict. of Painters; J. Chaloner Smith's British Mezzotinto Portraits; information from G. Scharf, C.B.]

L. C.