Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pether, Abraham

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PETHER, ABRAHAM (1756–1812), landscape-painter, a cousin of William Pether [q. v.], was born at Chichester in 1756. In childhood he showed a great talent for music, and at the age of nine played the organ in one of the Chichester churches. Adopting art as his profession, he became a pupil of George Smith, whom he greatly surpassed. He painted river and mountain scenery, with classical buildings, in a pleasing though artificial style, somewhat resembling that of Wilson; but his reputation rests on moonlight subjects, which earned him the sobriquet of ‘Moonlight’ Pether. He painted with fine feeling and harmony of colour the combination of moonlight and firelight, as in ‘Eruption of Vesuvius,’ ‘Ship on Fire in a Gale at Night,’ ‘An Ironfoundry by Moonlight,’ &c. Pether was a large exhibitor with both the Free and the Incorporated Societies from 1773 to 1791, and at the Royal Academy from 1784 to 1811. His ‘Harvest Moon,’ which was at the Academy in 1795, was highly praised at the time. He had an extensive knowledge of scientific subjects, and in his moonlight pictures the astronomical conditions are always correctly observed. He was also a clever mechanic, constructing optical instruments for his own use, and lectured on electricity. Although his art was popular, Pether was never able to do more than supply the daily wants of his large family, and when attacked by a lingering disease, which incapacitated him for work and eventually caused his death, he was reduced to great poverty. He died at Southampton on 13 April 1812, leaving a widow and nine children quite destitute; and the fact that they were unable to obtain any assistance from the Artists' Benevolent Fund was made the occasion of a fierce attack upon the management of that society. Abraham Pether is known among dealers as ‘Old’ Pether, to distinguish him from his son Sebastian [q. v.], who is noticed separately.

Thomas Pether (fl. 1781), who was probably a brother of Abraham—as, according to the catalogues, they at one time lived together—was a wax modeller, and exhibited portraits in wax with the Free Society from 1772 to 1781.

[Pilkington's Dict. of Painters; Bryan's Dict., ed. Stanley; Pye's Patronage of British Art, p. 332; Dayes's Works, 1805; Exhibition Catalogues.]

F. M. O'D.