Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Singleton, Henry

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SINGLETON, HENRY (1766–1839), painter, born in London on 19 Oct. 1766, lost his father at an early age, and was brought up by his uncle, William Singleton, a miniature-painter, who exhibited a few enamel portraits at the Society of Artists and Royal Academy from 1770 to 1790. Singleton showed very early promise as an artist, and in 1780 exhibited at the exhibition of the Society of Artists in Spring Gardens a pen-drawing of ‘A Soldier returned to his Family,’ being described as ‘Master H. Singleton, aged ten years.’ Gaining admission to the schools of the Royal Academy, Singleton obtained in 1784 a silver medal and in 1788 the gold medal for an original painting from Dryden's ode, ‘Alexander's Feast,’ which performance obtained the special commendation of Sir Joshua Reynolds in his presidential discourse. Singleton first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784, and continued to be a prolific contributor up to the year of his death. He was at first noted for large historical compositions from the bible, Shakespeare, or contemporary historical events. Many of these were engraved in mezzotint on a large scale by Gillbank, Charles Turner, and others, and published by James Daniell. Two of the best, ‘Paul I granting Liberty to Kosciuszko’ (1797) and ‘The Death of Captain Alexander Hood after capturing the French 74 L'Hercule, 21 April 1798,’ were engraved, the latter in colours, by Daniell himself (good specimens of these and other large historical prints after Singleton are in the print-room at the British Museum). Singleton, though a popular artist, whose works were always in demand, never maintained his original promise as an historical painter. His figures became loosely drawn, his composition weak, and his colour flimsy. Gradually he lapsed into compositions of a sentimental or moral nature, almost entirely destined for the engraver. Numberless compositions of his were engraved by the stipple engravers of the day, W. Bond, Thomas Burke (1749–1815) [q. v.], James Godby [q. v.], Anthony Cardon, and others, and it is through the popularity of these pretty sugary compositions that Singleton's name is best known at the present day. He did better work as an illustrator of books, those done for Sharpe's classics and other serials having much charm. He completed a series of cabinet pictures to illustrate Shakespeare shortly before his death. As a painter of portraits Singleton attained some distinction. In 1793 he painted on commission from the Royal Academy a portrait group of ‘The Royal Academicians assembled in their Council Chamber to adjudge the Medals to the Successful Students in Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, and Drawing;' this interesting group, which contains forty portraits, was engraved in 1802 by C. Bestland, and is in the possession of the Royal Academy, Portraits by Singleton of Lord Nelson, Admiral Vernon, and others have been engraved. A small but vigorous portrait by him of Lord Howe is in the National Portrait Gallery. A portrait group of James Boswell [q. v.], with his wife and family, was lent by Mr. Ralph Dundas to the Edinburgh Loan Exhibition of Scottish National Portraits in 1884. Singleton was a candidate for academic honours in 1807, but withdrew his name on being unsuccessful on the first occasion. He resided during the latter part of his life in Charles Street, St. James's, being in easy circumstances, and for some years was the oldest living exhibitor at the Royal Academy. He died, unmarried, at the house of a friend in Kensington Gore on 15 Sept. 1839, and was buried in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. A large collection of sketches by Singleton, and also of engravings from his works, is in the print-room of the British Museum. Sarah MacKlarinan Singleton, who resided with him for twenty or thirty years, latterly at No. 4 Haymarket, appears to have been his sister. She was also an artist, and exhibited portraits at the Royal Academy from 1788 to 1813. Maria M. Singleton, who exhibited portraits at the Royal Academy in 1787 and 1788, and again from 1808 to 1810, appears to have been another sister. Joseph Singleton, who exhibited miniatures at the Royal Academy from 1777 to 1783, was probably of the same family.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Gent. Mag. 1839, ii. 430; Seguier's Dict. of Artists; Graves's Dict. of Artists, 1760-1893.]

L. C.