Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lowry, Wilson

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1235714Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 34 — Lowry, Wilson1893Freeman Marius O'Donoghue

LOWRY, WILSON (1762–1824), engraver, was born at Whitehaven on 24 Jan. 1762. His father, Strickland Lowry (1737–1780?), was a provincial portrait-painter, who led a somewhat wandering life, finally settling at Worcester. While a boy Wilson Lowry left home and worked for a short time as a house-painter in London and Arundel. Returning to Worcester he obtained some elementary instruction from an engraver named Ross, and his first plate was a card for a Worcester fishmonger. When about eighteen he again went to London with an introduction to Boydell, who gave him employment, and at whose suggestion he was engaged to make a drawing of Lunardi's balloon for William Blizard [q. v.] the surgeon. By the latter Lowry was encouraged to practise surgery, and for four years he attended lectures and walked the hospitals during his spare hours, but the plan was not pursued. He worked in the schools of the Royal Academy, was instructed in perspective by the elder Malton, and studied every branch of mathematics with enthusiasm. He was employed in forwarding the plates of J. Browne, J. Heath, and W. Sharp, and for the latter's celebrated portrait of John Hunter engraved the whole of the background. The etchings for some of W. Byrne's best plates, after Hearne, of the ‘Antiquities of Great Britain’ were Lowry's work. For Boydell, Lowry produced a few good prints from landscapes by G. Poussin, Salvator Rosa, and G. Robertson; but it was as an engraver of architecture and mechanism that he earned distinction. For the purpose of obtaining perfect accuracy of line and evenness of texture in plates of that kind Lowry devised several ingenious instruments. About 1790 he completed a ruling machine, which he first employed upon a plate in Stuart's ‘Athens;’ in 1801 he invented an instrument for striking elliptical curves, and in 1806 another for making perspective drawings. These were described and highly praised by John Landseer [q. v.] in his lectures on engraving at the Royal Institution. Lowry was the first engraver who used diamond points for ruling, and he discovered the secret of biting in steel successfully. Among the earliest works for which he engraved the illustrations were Murphy's ‘Description of the Church of Batalha in Portugal’ and ‘Travels in Portugal,’ 1795, Peter Nicholson's ‘Principles of Architecture,’ 1795–8, Tilloch's ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ and the ‘Journal of the Society of Arts.’ In 1800, when Dr. Rees's celebrated ‘Cyclopædia’ was projected, Lowry was engaged to execute the plates, and this was his chief occupation during the next twenty years, but during that time he also contributed many of the illustrations to Wilkins's ‘Magna Græcia,’ 1807, and ‘Vitruvius,’ 1812, and Nicholson's ‘Architectural Dictionary,’ 1819. Lowry's latest productions are to be found in Crabb's ‘Technological Dictionary,’ 1823, and the ‘Encyclopædia Metropolitana.’ As the result of his profound knowledge of geometry and the laws of mechanics, combined with an unfailing accuracy of eye and hand, Lowry's engravings are of quite unequalled beauty in their particular class. Of his architectural works some of the plates in Nicholson's ‘Architecture’ and the view of the Irish parliament house are striking examples, and Rees's ‘Cyclopædia’ contains some of his finest representations of machinery.

Lowry was much addicted to philosophical studies, was well versed in geology and mineralogy, and on intimate terms with the leading scientific men of his day; he was an original member of the Geological Society, and elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1812. He wrote many of the minor articles in Rees's ‘Cyclopædia,’ and a remarkable letter from him on the subject of the Mosaic account of the deluge was printed in the ‘Imperial Magazine,’ January 1820. Lowry died at his house in Great Titchfield Street, London, after a lingering illness, on 23 June 1824. By his first wife, Miss Porter, he had two daughters, of whom the elder, Anne, married Hugh Stuart Boyd [q. v.], and the younger, Matilda, who became Mrs. Heming, earned some reputation as a portrait-painter. In 1796 Lowry married, secondly, Rebecca Delvalle (1761–1848), a lady of Spanish extraction, who was an accomplished mineralogist; by her he had a son, Joseph Wilson Lowry [q. v.], and a daughter, Delvalle, who married John Varley [q. v.] the landscape-painter, and was the author of ‘Engineer's Manual of Mineralogy and Geology,’ 1846, and ‘Rudiments of Geology,’ 1848.

A portrait of Lowry, drawn by John Linnell and engraved by Linnell and William Blake, was published soon after his death, and another, drawn by his daughter, Mrs. Heming, was engraved by J. Thomson for the ‘European Magazine,’ August 1824, and by H. Meyer for the ‘Imperial Magazine,’ February 1825.

[Annual Biography and Obituary for 1825; European Mag. August 1824; Imperial Mag. February 1825; Somerset House Gazette, ii. 172, 190; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Univ. Cat. of Books on Art.]

F. M. O'D.