Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Winstanley, Hamlet
WINSTANLEY, HAMLET (1698–1756), painter and engraver, the second son of William Winstanley, a reputable tradesman in Warrington, Lancashire, ‘who brought up all his children to good school learning,’ was born at Warrington in 1698. In 1707 he was placed under the tuition of Samuel Shaw, rector of the parish and master of the Boteler free grammar school of his native town. The remarkable talent shown by the young Hamlet in rough drawings which he made with crayons attracted the notice of John Finch, rector of Winwick and brother of the Earl of Nottingham. He gave the boy free access to his collection of paintings and every encouragement to pursue the career of an artist, finally smoothing the way for him to study in London at the academy of painting, founded in 1711, in Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, under the auspices of Sir Godfrey Kneller. He remained in London three years, deriving great benefit, as he always fully acknowledged, from the personal supervision of Kneller, and returned to Warrington in 1721 upon an express commission to paint the portrait of Sir Edward Stanley. The success of this portrait led to his introduction to James Stanley, tenth earl of Derby, and the earl was so pleased with Winstanley's work that he ordered him to come and paint for him at his seat at Knowsley. During the next two years he painted several landscapes and portraits, including one of the earl, and, says a contemporary memoir written either by himself or by his brother, Peter Winstanley, ‘he merited esteem so much that his lordship advised him and gave him noble exceeding good encouragement to go to Rome in 1723, as he did, to compleat his study in painting, as perfect as possible to be attained. And in order thereto his lordship got letters of credit, and recommendation for Mr. Winstanley to a certain cardinal at Rome, to whom his lordship sent a present of a large whole piece of the very best black brad cloth that London could produce, with a prospect to introduce Mr. Winstanley into what favours he had occasion for, to view all the principal paintings, statues, and curiositys of Rome, and to copy some curious pictures (that could not be purchas'd for money) which Lord Derby had a desire of, and he employed him while he stayed at Rome and at Venice awhile, in all about two years, for he came home in 1725.’ While at Rome he heard of the death of Kneller, whom he referred to as ‘a particular friend, his great master.’ The sketches of Rome and studies of antique figures drawn by Winstanley, while bearing very distinctly the impress of the taste of the period, exhibit some masterly qualities. The British Museum purchased two fine examples of pen and wash drawings by Winstanley in 1870. He executed large copies of the ‘Graces,’ by Raphael, in the Farnesina Palace at Rome, and of the ‘Triumph of Bacchus,’ by Caracci, in the Farnese. His etchings from pictures by old masters (including Ribera, Rembrandt, Vandyck, Carlo Dolci, Tintoretto, Titian, Rubens, Snyders, and Salvator Rosa), in the possession of the Earl of Derby, fully entitle him to the high place assigned him in Walpole's ‘Catalogue’ of early engravers in England. These etchings, executed for the most part during 1728–9, were bound together in a portfolio known as the ‘Knowsley Gallery,’ with an obsequious dedication to the Earl of Derby. Walpole does not seem to have known Winstanley as a portrait-painter, but the portraits he executed of the Stanleys, of John Blackburne, of Samuel Peploe, bishop of Chester, and Jonathan Patten of Manchester, are said to be most faithful likenesses. Several of his portraits have been etched or engraved; that of the Earl of Derby was retouched by Gerard Van der Gucht to enhance the effect; the portrait of Edward Waddington [q. v.], bishop of Chichester, painted in 1730, was engraved in mezzotint by Faber; and that of Francis Smith, the architect, by A. N. Haecken (Dodd, Manuscript Memoirs of English Engravers). A few of his landscape and other subjects are at Knowsley, and Winstanley also made etchings of Sir James Thornhill's paintings in the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. He spent his later years at Warrington, where he built Stanley Street, and named it after his patrons at Knowsley. He died at Warrington on 18 May 1756. A tombstone in Warrington churchyard thus commemorates his burial: ‘Hamlet Winstanley, second son of William & Ellen Winstanley, an eminent portrait-painter, 20 May 1756, aged 61.’ His collections of copper-plates and prints are stated by Walpole to have been sold by auction at Essex House on 18 March 1762.
A three-quarter-length portrait of Hamlet Winstanley in painting dress, by the artist himself, dated in 1730, was engraved in mezzotint by G. Faber, and was engraved in line by J. Thompson for Walpole's ‘Anecdotes of Painting,’ 1888, iii. 235 (cf. J. C. Smith, Brit. Mezzo. Portraits, p. 445).[Biographical Memoranda, made in 1776 by Peter Winstanley, and contributed to Notes and Queries (5th ser. viii. 404) with some comments by (Sir) George Scharf (these particulars are wrongly assigned in the index to ‘Herbert’ Winstanley); Addit. MS. 33407, f. 159; Rylands's Local Gleanings, 1877, p. 637; Memoir of Hamlet Winstanley, Warrington, 1883; Brit. Mus. Cat. The notices in Walpole's Anecdotes and in Redgrave wrongly assume that the painter was the son of Henry Winstanley, the engineer and engraver.]