Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pether, William

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PETHER, WILLIAM (1738?–1821), mezzotint-engraver, was born at Carlisle about 1738, and became a pupil of Thomas Frye [q. v.], with whom he entered into partnership in 1761. In 1762 he engraved Frye's portrait of George III in three sizes, and during the following fifteen years executed a number of engravings after various English, Dutch, and Italian masters, especially Rembrandt and Joseph Wright of Derby, whose strong effects of light and shade he rendered with remarkable taste and intelligence. His plates of ‘The Jewish Bride,’ 1763, ‘Jewish Rabbi,’ 1764, ‘Officer of State,’ 1764, and ‘Lord of the Vineyard,’ 1766, after Rembrandt, and ‘A Lecture on the Orrery,’ 1768, ‘Drawing from the Gladiator,’ 1769, ‘The Hermit,’ 1770, and ‘The Alchymist,’ 1775, after Wright, are masterpieces of mezzotint work. Pether engraved altogether about fifty plates, some of which were published by Boydell, but the majority by himself at various addresses in London. He was also an excellent miniaturist, and painted some good life-sized portraits in oil, three of which—Mrs. Bates the singer, the brothers Smith of Chichester, and himself in a Spanish dress—he also engraved. He was a fellow of the Incorporated Society of Artists, and contributed to its exhibitions paintings, miniatures, and engravings from 1764 to 1777. In the latter year he sent his own portrait, above mentioned, with the disguised title, ‘Don Mailliw Rehtep.’ He was also an occasional exhibitor with the Free Society and the Royal Academy. Pether's career was marred by his restless temperament, which rendered him incapable of pursuing continuously any one branch of art, and sometimes led him into employing his faculties on subjects quite foreign to his profession. He constantly changed his residence from London to the provinces and back again, and being averse to society, although an agreeable and accomplished man, gradually sank into obscurity and neglect. His latest plate published in London is dated 1793, and he exhibited at the Royal Academy for the last time in 1794. About ten years later he appears to have settled at Bristol, where he earned a livelihood as a drawing-master and picture-cleaner, and there he engraved the portraits of Edward Colston the philanthropist, after Richardson, and Samuel Syer, the historian of Bristol, the latter dated 1816. Pether died in Montague Street, Bristol, on 19 July 1821, aged 82 or 83, having been long forgotten in the world of art. He had many pupils, the most eminent of whom were Henry Edridge and Edward Dayes. The latter, in his ‘Sketches of Artists,’ speaks of him with great admiration, both as an artist and a man. An engraved portrait of Pether is mentioned by Bromley.

[Miller's Biographical Sketches, 1826; Challoner Smith's British Mezzotint Portraits; Graves's Dict. of Artists; Dayes's Works, 1805; Bristol Mirror, 28 July 1821; information from Mr. W. George of Bristol.]

F. M. O'D.