Sharp, William (1749-1824) (DNB00)

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SHARP, WILLIAM (1749–1824), engraver, son of a gunmaker residing in Haydon Yard, Minories, London, was born on 29 Jan. 1749. His father apprenticed him to Barak Longmate [q. v.], an engraver and genealogist. Shortly after the expiry of his indentures he married a Frenchwoman, had opened a shop as a writing engraver in Bartholomew Lane. His first noteworthy production was an engraving of Hector, the old lion at the Tower, on a small quarto plate, which he exposed for sale in his shop window. About 1782 he sold his shop and removed to Vauxhall, where he devoted himself to the superior branches of his art. His merit showed itself in some plates from the designs of Stothard, executed for the ‘Novelist's Magazine.’ He also completed the plate of West's ‘Landing of Charles II,’ which Woollett had left unfinished at his death, and engraved some of the illustrations for ‘Captain Cook's Voyages’ and Benwell's ‘Children in the Wood.’ His circumstances improving, he left Vauxhall and finally settled at Chiswick, where he spent the latter part of his life. Among his best works are—after Guido, ‘The Doctors of the Church disputing,’ and ‘Ecce Homo,’ after West, ‘King Lear in the Storm’ and ‘The Witch of Endor;’ after Trumbull, ‘The Sortie from Gibraltar;’ after Sir Joshua Reynolds, the portrait of John Hunter and ‘The Holy Family.’ ‘Sharp's style of engraving is masterly and entirely original; the half-tints of his best works rich and full; the play of his lines marked by taste and genius; the colour and character of the master excellently rendered.’ His reputation as an engraver was very great on the continent, and he was elected honorary member of the Imperial Academy at Vienna and of the Royal Academy at Munich.

In his younger days Sharp was a republican and a friend of Thomas Paine and Horne Tooke. He became a member of the Society for Constitutional Information, and in consequence was involved in the proceedings taken against Horne Tooke. He was examined on treasonable charges before the privy council, but dismissed without punishment as a harmless enthusiast. After becoming a convert to the views of Mesmer and Swedenborg, the religious opinions of Jacob Bryan and Richard Brothers engaged his attention, and he engraved Brothers as ‘Prince of the Hebrews,’ with rays of light descending on his head. When Brothers was confined at Islington as a lunatic, Sharp became a staunch adherent of Joanna Southcott, whom he brought from Exeter to London and maintained at his own expense for a considerable time. He was the last of her followers to admit the reality of her death, and he never lost faith in her divine mission nor expectation of her reappearance. Sharp died at Chiswick on 25 July 1824, and was buried in the parish churchyard. His portrait was painted by George Francis Joseph, and engraved by himself. Another portrait, engraved by Thomson, is prefixed to his memoir in the ‘European Magazine.’

Sharp was the author of ‘An Answer to the World for putting in print a book called Copies and Parts of Copies of Letters and Communications written from Joanna Southcote,’ London, 1806, 8vo. There is a large collection of his engravings in the British Museum.

A three-quarter length portrait, in oils, by James Lonsdale [q. v.], is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

[Baker's Life of Sharp, 1875; European Mag. 1824, ii. 191, 357; Annual Biogr. and Obituary, 1825, p. 216; Gent. Mag. 1824, ii. 469; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Bryan's Dict. of Painters and Engravers; Dodd's Memoirs of English Engravers, Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 33404, f. 201.]

E. I. C.