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Devis, Arthur William (DNB00)

DEVIS, ARTHUR WILLIAM (1763–1822), portrait and history painter, was born in London 10 Aug. 1763. He was the son of Arthur Devis [q. v.], the portrait painter, from whom he received his art education. When about twenty years of age he was appointed draughtsman in a voyage projected by the East India Company, and sailed in the Antelope packet, commanded by Captain Wilson. The vessel was wrecked off the Pelew Islands, on one of which the crew landed. The island was uninhabited, but the sailors formed a friendly intercourse with a neighbouring people, and took part in the wars of the natives. The Antelope crew having built a vessel, the king confided to Captain Wilson his son, Prince Lee Boo, and they sailed for Macao. On the voyage Devis received two wounds from arrows shot from the coast, one in his body, the other in his cheek; the latter caused a permanent injury to the jaw. On arriving at Macao the captain sold the little vessel and proceeded to Canton, whence, with the exception of Devis, they embarked with Prince Lee Boo for England. The prince died in London 27 Dec. 1784, aged 20. After having passed one year at Canton, Devis proceeded to Bengal, where he was noticed by Sir William Jones, Lord Cornwallis, and General Harris. In 1795 he returned to England and painted ‘The Conspiracy of Babington in the reign of Queen Elizabeth,’ engraved in mezzotint by John Bromley; ‘Cardinal Langton and the Barons forcing King John to sign Magna Charta;’ ‘Lord Cornwallis receiving the two sons of Tippoo Saib as Hostages;’ the portraits of Admiral Peter Rainier and Sir Isaac Heard, &c. After the battle of Trafalgar he went out to meet the Victory, and painted ‘The Death of Vice-admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, K.B., in the cockpit of H.M.S. Victory, 21 Oct. 1805.’ This picture, engraved by W. Bromley (1812), was presented by the Right Hon. Lord Bexley to the gallery of Greenwich Hospital in 1825 (size 8 feet 7 inches by 6 feet 4 inches). He also painted a commemorative picture on the death of Princess Charlotte. In 1812 Devis abandoned the Artists' Fund, to aid which he had made great exertions in 1810 and 1811. He fell a victim to apoplexy, and died in London 11 Feb. 1822, and was buried in St. Giles's churchyard. He exhibited sixty-five pictures at the Royal Academy between 1779 and 1821. His equestrian portrait of ‘Alexander Sinclair Gordon, Esq., captain and adjutant of the light horse volunteers of London and Westminster,’ was engraved by Anthony Cardon in 1805; ‘The Battle of Waterloo,’ engraved by John Burnet in 1819; ‘An Indian Interior,’ by P. W. Tomkins in 1797; ‘The Little Mountaineer,’ by E. Scriven in 1809, who also engraved Devis's illustrations to J. J. Howard's translation of the ‘Metamorphoses of Ovid,’ London, 1807, 8vo. There is in the department of prints and drawings, British Museum, a portrait of Arra Kovger in pencil by him, and at the National Portrait Gallery is his portrait of Governor Herbert, painted in 1791.

[Manuscript notes in Brit. Mus.; Redgrave's Dict. of English Artists.]

L. F.