Eginton, Francis (1737-1805) (DNB00)

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EGINTON, FRANCIS (1737–1805), painter on glass, grandson of the rector of Eckington in Worcestershire, was taught the trade of an enameller at Bilston. As a young man he was employed by Matthew Boulton [q. v.] in the Soho works. In 1764 Eginton was employed as a decorator of japanned wares, but did much work in modelling. During the next few years Boulton brought together a number of able artists at Soho, including Flaxman and Wyatt; and Eginton rapidly became a skilful worker in almost every department of decorative art. Eginton was a partner with Boulton in the production of 'mechanical paintings.' The hint for these was in all probability taken by Boulton from a process modified by Robert Laurie [q. v.] from Le Prince's 'aquatint' engravings. Eginton perfected the method and applied it to the production of coloured copies of paintings, sometimes called 'polygraphs.' More plates than one were required for each picture, and after leaving the printing-press Eginton finished them by hand. They were copies from Loutherbourg, Angelica Kauffmann, and other artists, and varied in price from 1l. 10s. to 21l. The largest were forty inches by fifty. They were sometimes taken for original paintings. Not many years ago some of them were pronounced by two artists to be 'oil-paintings of much merit,' and their real character was not discovered till a cleaner removed the varnish. These old 'polygraphs' were in fact nearly identical with the varnished coloured lithographs (oleographs) of the present day, the main difference being that the latter are printed from stones. Mr. (afterwards Sir) F. P. Smith, then of the Patent Museum, maintained, in a paper read before the Photographic Society of London in 1863, that some of them preserved at South Kensington were photographs of early date. The claim is quite untenable. Thomas Wedgwood [q. v.] had indeed made experiments upon copying pictures by the action of light upon nitrate of silver; but the results then obtained would be altogether incapable of producing pictures of their size and character. The claim in various forms is often repeated on behalf of the scientific circle of Birmingham, but the matter was really settled by a series of pamphlets written by M. P. W. Boulton (grandson of Boulton) in 1863-5, in which he gives an account of the whole matter. Mr. Vincent Brooks, an eminent lithographer, produced an exact imitation of the 'ground' of one of the examples exhibited at South Kensington by taking an impression from an aquatint engraved plate on paper used for transfer lithography.

The 'picture branch' of Boulton's business was discontinued as unprofitable, the loss on this and the japanning trade being over 500l. for 1780. The partnership between Eginton and Boulton was dissolved. Lord Dartmouth proposed to grant Eginton a government pension of 20l. a year, but the project was privately opposed by Boulton, and it was consequently abandoned. For the next year or two Eginton appears to have continued to work at Soho, and to have begun in 1781 to stain and paint upon glass. In 1784 he left Soho and set up in business for himself at Prospect Hill House, which stood just opposite Soho, and was not taken down till 1871.

The art of glass-painting had fallen into complete disuse. Eginton revived it and issued from his Birmingham factory a long series of works in stained glass. His first work of consequence was the arms of the knights of the Garter for two Gothic windows in the stalls in St. George's Chapel, Windsor; and among other works were the east window of Wanstead Church, the archiepiscopal chapel at Armagh, the Bishop of Derry's palace, Salisbury Cathedral (east and west windows, and ten mosaic windows), Lichfield Cathedral (east window), Babworth Church, Nottingham, Aston Church, Shuckburgh Church, the ante-chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford, &c. In the banqueting room of Arundel Castle there is a fine window by Eginton (20 ft. by 10 ft.)representing Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. He also did much work at Fonthill, including thirty-two figures of kings, knights, &c., and many windows, for which Beckford paid him 12,000l. Eginton sent much of his painted glass abroad, and some of his finest work is believed to be in Amsterdam. In 1791 he completed what was then considered his masterpiece, the 'Conversion of St. Paul,' for the east window of St. Paul's Church, Birmingham, for which he received the 'very inadequate sum of four hundred guineas.' Eginton works were, in fact, transparencies on glass. He was obliged to render opaque a large portion of his glass, and thus missed the characteristic beauty of the old windows. Eginton's showroom was seen by all distinguished visitors of Birmingham. Nelson, accompanied by Sir W. and Lady Hamilton' called there on 29 Aug. 1802.

Eginton died on 26 March 1805, and was buried in Old Handsworth churchyard. His daughter married Henry Wyatt, the painter; his son, William Raphael Eginton, succeeded to his father's business, and in 1816 received the appointment of glass-stainer to Princess Charlotte. His brother, John Eginton, was celebrated as an engraver in stipple.

[Birmingham Daily Post, 25 April 1871, by W. C. Aitken, reprinted in pamphlet form; Gent. Mag. 1805, pt. i. pp. 387, 482; J. H. Powell in Timmins's Midland Hardware District, 1865; the archæological section of the Birmingham and Midland Institute possesses a photograph of Prospect Hill House; G. Wallis on Supposed Photography at Soho in 1777, Art Journal, 1866, pp. 251, 269; Nagler's Künstler-Lexikon, 1837; Smiles's Lives of the Engineers, 'Boulton' and 'Watt,' 1878; Dent's Old and New Birmingham, 1880.]

W. J. H.