Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dighton, Robert

DIGHTON, ROBERT (1752?–1814), portrait-painter, caricaturist, and etcher, was born about 1752, and styled himself ‘drawing-master.’ He first exhibited at the Free Society of Artists in 1769, and continued to do so till 1773, when he sent some portraits in chalk. In 1775 he had at the Royal Academy ‘a frame of stain'd drawings,’ and his address was ‘at Mr. Glanville's, opposite St. Clement's Church.’ Two years later he exhibited ‘A Conversation, small whole-lengths,’ and ‘A Drawing of a Gentleman from memory;’ he then resided at 266 High Holborn, and in 1785 at Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. In 1795 Dighton etched ‘A Book of Heads,’ published by Bowles & Carver of 69 St. Paul's Churchyard, London, and also his portrait; he is seen in left profile, in his right hand a crayon-holder, and under his left arm a portfolio inscribed ‘A Book of Heads by Robert Dighton, Portrait Painter and Drawing Master.’ His etchings, which are numerous and tinted by hand, are chiefly satirical portraits of the leading counsel then at the bar, military officers, actors and actresses, and he signed himself ‘R. Dighton’ and ‘Dighton,’ whereas his son Richard wrote his name in full. In 1794 he lived at No. 12 Charing Cross; he then moved to No. 6, and finally, in 1810, to No. 4 Spring Gardens, Charing Cross, where he died in 1814. In 1806 it was discovered that Dighton had abstracted from the British Museum a number of etchings and prints. The first meeting of the trustees of the British Museum for consideration of the matter was held 21 June 1806. The discovery of the theft was due to Samuel Woodburn, the art dealer, who, having been summoned to attend the board, stated that about May 1806 he bought of Dighton, Rembrandt's ‘Coach Landscape’ for twelve guineas, and, receiving information that there was reason to suppose it might be a copy, took the etching to the museum on 18 June to compare it with the Museum impression. This he found to be missing, and only a coloured copy remaining. Shortly afterwards the culprit made the following disclosures: that he first visited the British Museum in 1794, and finding one of the officials very obliging drew for him gratuitously his portrait and that of his daughter. The prints were at that time slightly pasted in guard-books, from which Dighton was able to remove them unnoticed, and to carry them away in a portfolio. These he sold, but they were nearly all recovered. There is in the department of prints and drawings, British Museum, a good set of Dighton's etchings, and a lithograph representing a boy at an easel and the following water-colour drawings: ‘Glee Singers executing a Catch,’ ‘The Reward of Virtue,’ ‘Comme ce Corse nous mène,’ ‘There is gallantry for you!’ ‘Men of War bound for the Port of Pleasure.’

[Redgrave's Dict. of English Artists; Fagan's Collectors' Marks, p. 24, No. 131; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vi. 187.]

L. F.