Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Peters, Matthew William

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PETERS, MATTHEW WILLIAM (1742–1814), portrait and historical painter and divine, was born in the Isle of Wight in 1742. His father, Matthew Peters, is described as ‘of the Isle of Wight, gent.;’ he appears to have held a post in the customs at Dublin, where the son was brought up (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886). There he attended the school of design, of which Robert West was then master. In 1759 he obtained a premium from the Society of Arts. He joined the Incorporated Society of Artists, and exhibited in Spring Gardens portraits, principally in crayons, from 1766 to 1769. He also exhibited two works at the Free Society of Artists. It is probable that he had been to Italy before 1766, as his contributions in that year included ‘A Florentine Lady in the Tuscan Dress’ and ‘A Lady in a Pisan Dress.’ In 1769 he was living in Welbeck Street, Portman Square, and, besides seven portraits at Spring Gardens, he had one at the exhibition (the first) of the Royal Academy. Except in 1772, 1775, and 1779, he exhibited regularly at this academy till 1780, though he spent some portion of this period in Italy, as his address is given as Venice in the catalogues of 1773 and 1774. While in Italy on this or another occasion (he visited Rome twice) he made a copy of Correggio's St. Jerome (‘Il Giorno’) at Parma, which is now in the church of Saffron Walden, Essex. He was elected an associate of the academy in 1771, and a full member in 1777. The only portraits to which names are given in the catalogues are ‘Mr. Wortly Montagu in his dress as an Arabian Prince’ (1776) and ‘Sir John Fielding as Chairman of the Quarter Sessions for the City of Westminster’ (1778). He also seems to have painted a portrait of his father, which was engraved by J. Murphy in 1773 (Bromley). Besides portraits, he exhibited ‘A Girl making Lace’ (1770), ‘A Woman in Bed,’ ‘A Country Girl,’ and ‘St. John’ (1777), and ‘A View of Liverpool’ (1780).

He had now attained a considerable position as an artist; but for some years before this he had seriously turned his attention to the church, for which profession he had been intended in his youth. He matriculated from Exeter College, Oxford, on 24 Nov. 1779, and graduated B.C.L. in 1788; he took orders in 1783, and in the same year became rector of Eaton, Leicestershire. He did not exhibit in 1781 or 1782, but in 1783 he sent his second sacred subject, ‘An Angel carrying the Spirit of a Child to Paradise.’ This picture is at Burghley, and the angel is a portrait of Mary Isabella, afterwards wife of Charles, fourth duke of Rutland. In 1785 appeared his next and last contributions to the Royal Academy—‘The Fortune Teller’ and two full-lengths of noblemen (the Duke of Manchester and Lord Petre), ‘grand-masters’ of the Freemasons, for Freemasons' Hall.

He painted two other ‘grand-masters,’ the Duke of Cumberland and the prince-regent; several subjects for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery, from ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ ‘Henry VIII,’ and ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ and some religious pictures, one of which, the ‘Annunciation,’ he presented in 1799, as an altar-piece, to Exeter Cathedral. It was a subject of coarse ridicule by Paley, and was removed about 1853. Among others were ‘Cherubs,’ ‘The Guardian Angel,’ and the ‘Resurrection of a Pious Family,’ the last of which was sold at Christie's in 1886 for 23l. 2s. Many of his works were engraved by Bartolozzi, J. R. Smith, Marcuard, Simon, Thew, and Dickinson, and became very popular. Although never rising to the first rank, and severely attacked by such satirists as Peter Pindar (Dr. Wolcot) and Antony Pasquin (John Williams), he was a clever artist and pleasant colourist, and one or two of his scenes from Shakespeare (especially Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford reading Falstaff's love-letter) are animated with a sprightly humour. His portraits at Freemasons' Hall were burnt in the fire of 1883.

His career as a clergyman was prosperous. He became rector of Knighton, Leicestershire, and Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, in 1788, prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral in 1795, and chaplain to the Marquis of Westminster and the prince-regent. He married a niece of Dr. Turton, a physician of large practice, and died at Brasted Place, Kent, on 20 March 1814.

[Redgrave's Dict.; Redgraves' Century of Painters; Bryan's Dict. of Painters, ed. Graves and Armstrong; Algernon Graves's Dict.; Pye's Patronage of British Art; Redford's Art Sales; Peter Pindar's Works; Antony Pasquin's Royal Academicians, a Farce; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xii. 272, 6th ser. vii. 313, 389, viii. 54, 253; Catalogues of the Royal Academy, &c.]

C. M.