Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wyatt, Matthew Digby

WYATT, Sir MATTHEW DIGBY (1820–1877), architect and writer on art, youngest son of Matthew Wyatt, a metropolitan police magistrate, was born at Rowde, near Devizes, on 28 July 1820. Thomas Henry Wyatt [q. v.] was his eldest brother. The Wyatt family was prolific in artists and architects. Thomas and Matthew were descended from William Wyatt (brother of Benjamin Wyatt of Blackbrook), who was at the end of the eighteenth century steward to Lord Uxbridge [see under Wyatt, James].

Matthew Digby was in 1836 placed as a pupil in the office of his brother Thomas. In the first year of pupilage he showed his literary ability by winning the essay prize medal of the Institute of British Architects, and the continental tour which he took in 1844–6 was made the occasion for collecting the materials of a work on the ‘Geometric Mosaics of the Middle Ages’ (1848, fol.) In 1849 Wyatt was employed by the Society of Arts to report upon the French Exhibition of that year. He furnished a remarkably able report, with the result that in 1851 he was selected for the post of secretary to the executive committee of the Great Exhibition in London. Besides winning prize medals for his exhibited designs, he received a special gold medal from the Prince Consort and a premium of 1,000l. for his official services. Among his collaborators in the work of the exhibition were Isambard Kingdom Brunel [q. v.], with whom he subsequently built Paddington station, and Owen Jones [q. v.], who became a close friend. A paper upon the construction of the exhibition buildings read before the Institution of Civil Engineers (x. 127) was awarded a ‘Telford’ medal, and Wyatt further contributed to the literature of the exhibition by undertaking the editorship of the ‘Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century,’ a work which illustrated a selection of the objects exhibited (1851, fol.)

During the time that the exhibition buildings were being transformed into the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, Wyatt acted as superintendent of the fine arts department, and, together with Owen Jones, designed the courts characteristic of various periods and nationalities of art. In 1855 he was appointed surveyor to the East India Company, and his execution of the interior of the India office, in collaboration with Sir George Gilbert Scott [q. v.], was the occasion of his receiving knighthood. In the same year Wyatt attended as juror at the Paris Exhibition, and for his services to the French government in reporting on decoration was created a knight of the Legion of Honour. From 1855 until 1859 he was honorary secretary of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and in 1866 received the gold medal of that body. On the foundation of the Slade professorship of fine arts at Cambridge in 1869 he was the first occupant of the chair, and received the honorary degree of M.A. Wyatt's knowledge and use of architectural styles were catholic and comprehensive, but his special leaning towards the art of the Renaissance made him in a sense a leader in the movement which has characterised the last quarter of the century.

His domestic works included Alford House, in Kensington Gore; Possingworth, Sussex; Newells, near Horsham; the Mount, Norwood; the Ham, Glamorganshire; and the restorations of Compton Wynyates, Warwickshire, and of Isfield Place, Sussex. He designed the chapel and hospital for the barracks at Warley, the Crimean memorial arch at Chatham, the Indian government stores at Lambeth, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, a Rothschild mausoleum at West Ham cemetery, the East India Museum, and the Adelphi Theatre. North Marston church, Buckinghamshire, was restored by Wyatt for the crown, and he was associated with his brother Thomas Henry in the design of the military chapel at Woolwich. He also executed many important colonial commissions. His other writings, which were numerous, include ‘Metal Work and its Artistic Design,’ 1852, fol.; ‘The Art of Illuminating,’ 1860, 4to; ‘On the Foreign Artists employed in England during the Sixteenth Century,’ 1868, 4to; and a paper on the ‘History of the Manufacture of Clocks,’ 1870.

Wyatt died on 21 May 1877 at his residence, Dimlands Castle, near Cowbridge, South Wales, to which he had retired in the hope of recruiting his overworked strength, and was buried at Usk. A bust life-size portrait of Wyatt, painted by A. Ossiani, is in the Royal Institute of British Architects. He married, on 11 Jan. 1853, Mary, second daughter of Iltyd Nicholl of the Ham, Glamorganshire.

[Builder, 1869, xxvii. 906 (portrait), 1877, xxxv. 541, 545, 550, 1878, xxxvi. 49, 391; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Burke's Peerage, 1877, p. 1406; Times, 23 and 24 May 1877; Institution of Civil Engineers Proceedings, 1876–7, xlix. pt. 3; Architect, 1877, xvii. 331, 339; information from Mr. R. B. Prosser.]

P. W.