Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bone, Henry

BONE, HENRY (1755–1834), painter, was born at Truro 6 Feb. 1755. His father was a cabinetmaker and carver of unusual skill. In 1767 Bone‘s family removed to Plymouth, where Henry was apprenticed, in 1771, to William Cookworthy, the founder of the Plymouth porcelain works, and the first manufacturer of ‘hardpaste’ china in England. In 1772 Bone removed, with his master, to the Bristol china works, and here he remained for six years, working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and at night studying drawing. The china decoration by Bone is of high merit, and is said to have been marked with the figure in addition to the factory-mark, a small cross. On the failure of the Bristol works in 1778 Bone came to London with one guinea of his own in his pocket, and five pounds borrowed from a friend. He first found employment in enameling watches and fans, and afterwards in making enamel and watercolour portraits. Dr. Wolcot (Peter Pindar) now became his friend, and by his advice Bone made professional tours in Cornwall. On 24 Jan. 1780 he married Elizabeth Vandermeulen, a descendant of William III’s battle-painter; and by her he had twelve children, ten of whom survived, In the same year he exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy, a portrait of his wife, an unusually large enamel for the period. He now gave himself up entirely to enamel-painting, and continued frequently to exhibit at the Academy, initialing most of his works. One large enamel (the largest ever executed up to that time), ‘A Muse and Cupid,' he exhibited in 1789. In 1800 he was appointed enamel painter to the Prince of Wales; in 1801 an associate of the Royal Academy and enamel painter to George III, continuing to hold the appointment during the reigns of George IV and William IV. On 15 April 1811 he was elected a royal academician, and shortly afterwards produced a still larger enamel (eighteen inches by sixteen), after Titian‘s ‘Bacchus and Ariadne.' More than four thousand persons inspected it at Bone’s house. The picture was sold to Mr. G. Bowles of Cavendish Square for twenty-two hundred guineas, which sum was paid (either wholly or partly) in a cheque on Fauntleroy’s bank. Bone cashed the cheque on his way home, and next day the bank broke (cf. Owen's Two Centuries of Ceramic Art in Bristol, and the Annual Biography for 1836). Bone’s next great works were a series of historical portraits of the time of Elizabeth; the ‘Cavaliers distinguished in the Civil War;’ and a series of portraits of the Russell family. The Elizabethan series did not prove a financial success; they were exhibited at his house at 15 Berners Street. In 1831 his eyesight failed, and after having lived successively at Spa Fields, 195 High Holborn, Little Russell Street, Hanover Street, and Berners Street, he moved in that year to Somers Town, and reluctantly received the Academy pension. Here he died of paralysis on 17 Dec. 1834, not without complaining of the neglect with which he had latterly been treated. Some time before his death he offered his collections, which had been valued at 10,000l., to the nation for 4,000l.; but the offer was declined, and on 22 April 1836 they were sold by auction at Christie's, and so dispersed. Other important sales of his works took place in 1846, 1850, 1854, and 1856. Specimens of his skill, which are all of very high quality, are now eagerly sought after by collectors. Two of his sons became artists; one went into the navy, one into the army, and another was called to the bar. Bone has been well called the ‘prince of enamelers,’ for he has rarely, if ever, been equalled in that extremely difficult, yet imperishable, branch of the pictorial art. Mr. J. Jope Rogers has published a voluminous catalogue of 1,063 works of the Bone family in the ‘Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall,’ No. xxii., for March 1880—one half of which number were the work of Henry Bone, R.A. He is said to have been ‘a man of unaffected modesty and generosity; friendship and integrity adorned his private life.’ Chantrey carved a fine bust of Bone, and Opie, Jackson, and Harlow each painted his portrait.

[European Mag. 1822; Sandby's History of the Royal Academy; Annual Biography for 1836.]

W. H. T.