Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Petit, John Louis
PETIT, JOHN LOUIS (1801–1868), divine and artist, born at Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, was son of John Hayes Petit, by Harriet Astley of Dukinfield Lodge, Lancashire. The family was originally settled at Caen, and was of Huguenot opinions [see Petit des Etans, Lewis], and another John Lewis Petit (1736–1780), son of John Petit of Little Aston, Staffordshire, was born in the parish of Shenstone, Staffordshire, and graduated from Queens' College, Cambridge, B.A. 1756, M.A. 1759, and M.D. 1766. He was elected fellow of the College of Physicians in 1767, was Gulstonian lecturer in 1768, censor in that year, 1774, and 1777, and was elected physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital on the death of Dr. Anthony Askew [q. v.] in 1774. He died on 27 May 1780 (Munk, Coll. of Phys. ii. 281; Original Minutebook of St. Bartholomew's Hospital).
John Louis Petit was educated at Eton, and contributed to the ‘Etonian,’ then in its palmiest days. He was elected to a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1822, graduated B.A. in 1823 and M.A. in 1826, and on 21 June 1850 was admitted ad eundem at Oxford. He took holy orders in 1824, but undertook no parochial work.
Petit showed a taste for sketching in early years, and his drawings in pencil and Indian ink were very delicate and correct. His favourite subject was old churches, and great part of his life was spent in visiting and sketching them. His drawings were rapidly executed, and his sketches were always finished on the spot. In 1839 he made his first extensive tour on the continent. The results appeared in his ‘Remarks on Church Architecture’ (1841, 2 vols. 8vo), with illustrations. It was followed in 1846 by ‘Remarks on Architectural Character,’ royal fol. In the same year Petit published a lecture which he had delivered on 24 Feb. 1846 to the Oxford Society for promoting the study of Gothic architecture, under the title ‘Remarks on the Principles of Gothic Architecture as applied to ordinary Parish Churches.’ It was succeeded by the ‘Architecture of Tewkesbury Abbey Church,’ royal 8vo, 1846; ‘Architectural Notes in the Neighbourhood of Cheltenham,’ and ‘Remarks on Wimbourne Minster,’ 1847; ‘Remarks on Southwell Minster,’ with numerous good illustrations, 1848; ‘Architectural Notices relating to Churches in Gloucestershire and Sussex,’ 1849; ‘Architectural Notices of the curious Church of Gillingham, Norfolk,’ and an ‘Account of Sherborne Minster,’ 1850. In 1852 Petit published an ‘Account of Brinkburn Priory,’ a paper upon coloured brickwork near Rouen, and some careful notices of French ecclesiastical architecture. On 12 July 1853 he read before the Architectural Institute of Great Britain a paper on the ‘Architectural History of Boxgrove Priory,’ which was published the same year, together with some ‘historical remarks and conjectures’ by W. Turner.
In 1854 appeared Petit's principal work, ‘Architectural Studies in France,’ imperial 8vo. It was beautifully illustrated with fine woodcuts and facsimiles of anastatic drawings by the author and his companion, Professor Delamotte. It showed much learning and observation, and threw light upon the formation of Gothic in France, and on the differences between English and French Gothic. A new edition, revised by Edward Bell, F.S.A., with introduction, notes, and index, appeared in 1890. The text remained unaltered, but the illustrations were reduced in size, and a few added from Petit's unused woodcuts. In 1854 Petit published a valuable lecture on ‘Architectural Principles and Prejudices.’ In 1864–5 he travelled in the East, and executed some striking drawings. He died at Lichfield on 2 Dec. 1868, from a cold caught while sketching, and was buried in St. Michael's churchyard, where there is a monument with a Latin inscription to his memory.
Petit was one of the founders of the British Archæological Institute at Cambridge in 1844, and to its journal contributed, among other papers, an account of St. Germans Cathedral in the Isle of Man. He was also F.S.A., an honorary member of the Institute of British Architects, and a governor of Christ's Hospital. He was a learned and elegant writer, but was best known as an artist. Besides the work already noticed, he produced a few delicate etchings on copper. Specimens of his oil paintings are rare, but show a good sense of colour. Two of them belong to Mr. Albert Hartshorne and Mr. B. J. Hartshorne, who also possess many of his water-colour sketches. A poem by Petit, entitled ‘The Lesser and the Greater Light,’ was printed for the first time by his sister in 1869.[Architect, 2 Jan. 1869, by Albert Hartshorne; Luard's Grad. Cant.; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Athenæum, 26 Dec. 1868; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. ix. 264; Guardian, 9 Dec. 1868; Walford's Men of the Time, 1862; Redgrave's Dict. of English Artists; Bryan's Dict. of Painters and Engravers, ed. Graves; Allibone's Dict. of English Lit. ii. 1571; Brit. Mus. Cat.]