Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Penny, Edward

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PENNY, EDWARD (1714–1791), portrait and historical painter, one of the twin elder sons of Robert Penny, surgeon, by Clare, daughter of William Trafford, esq., of Swythamley, Staffordshire, was born at Knutsford, Cheshire, on 1 Aug. 1714. Having at an early age shown an inclination for painting, he was sent to London and placed under the tuition of Thomas Hudson. Afterwards he went to Rome and studied under Marco Benefiale. He returned to England about 1748, and began his professional career by painting small whole-lengths, which possessed much force and character. At a later period he painted more important subjects, but they were not equal to his earlier works. His rustic and pastoral scenes, however, have a little of the feeling of Morland. He appears to have joined the Society of Artists in 1762, when he exhibited a small whole-length of a lady and a scene in ‘Jane Shore.’ In 1763 he sent to the exhibition in Spring Gardens a scene from the ‘Aminta’ of Tasso, and a small whole-length of George Edwards, the ornithologist; in 1764, ‘The Death of General Wolfe,’ which was engraved by Richard Houston, and a scene illustrating Swift's ‘Description of a City Shower;’ in 1765, ‘The Marquess of Granby relieving a Sick Soldier,’ engraved by Richard Houston, and ‘The Return from the Fair;’ in 1767, ‘The Husbandman's Return from Work;’ and in 1768, ‘The Generous Behaviour of the Chevalier Bayard,’ engraved by William Pether. Penny, together with Benjamin West, Richard Wilson, and others, then withdrew from the Incorporated Society in consequence of dissensions which had arisen within its ranks, and in December 1768 was nominated one of the foundation members of the Royal Academy of Arts, and its first professor of painting. To the first exhibition in 1769 he contributed the smithy scene from Shakespeare's ‘King John,’ which was engraved by Richard Houston, and to that of 1770 ‘Imogen discovered in the Cave.’ In 1772 he exhibited ‘Lord Clive explaining to the Nabob the Situation of the Invalids in India,’ and ‘Rosamond and Queen Eleanor;’ in 1774, ‘The Profligate punished by Neglect and Contempt’ and ‘The Virtuous comforted by Sympathy and Attention,’ a pair engraved by Valentine Green; in 1776, ‘Jane Shore led to do Penance at St. Paul's;’ in 1779, ‘The Return from the Chase;’ in 1780, ‘Apparent Dissolution’ and ‘Returning Animation,’ a pair engraved by William Sedgwick; in 1781, ‘Lavinia discovered gleaning;’ and in 1782, ‘The Benevolent Physician,’ ‘The Rapacious Quack,’ and ‘Widow Costard's Cow and Goods, distrained for rent, are redeemed by the generosity of Johnny Pearmain.’ He then ceased to exhibit, and was obliged by ill-health to resign the professorship of painting, in which he was succeeded by James Barry. He was the author of a course of lectures upon the art of painting. These lectures, which received a high encomium from his successor Barry, were never published, but were bequeathed by his will (P. C. C. 534 Beevor) to his nephew, the Ven. George Buckley Bower, archdeacon of Richmond.

Penny married, after 1753 and before 1768, Elizabeth, daughter of John Simmons of Millbank, Westminster, and widow of Richard Fortnam, a lady who possessed valuable leasehold property on the Grosvenor estate in London. She died at Chiswick on 30 April 1790. He also died at Chiswick on 16 Nov. 1791, and was buried with his wife at Chessington, Surrey.

Two of Penny's works, ‘Imogen in the Cave’ and ‘Jane Shore doing Penance,’ now belong to Mr. H. W. Forsyth Harwood of Kensington. Others are in the possession of the Rev. E. W. Penny of Dersingham, Norfolk, and Mr. T. and the Misses Lowndes of Liverpool.

[Gent. Mag. 1791, ii. 1162; Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, ed. Graves and Armstrong, 1886–9, ii. 270; Sandby's History of the Royal Academy of Arts, 1862, i. 83; Seguier's Critical and Commercial Dictionary of the Works of Painters, 1870; Exhibition Catalogues of the Society of Artists, 1762–8; Royal Academy Exhibition Catalogues, 1769–82; information from H. W. Forsyth Harwood, esq.]

R. E. G.