Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirby, John Joshua
KIRBY, JOHN JOSHUA (1716–1774), clerk of the works at Kew Palace, born in 1716 at Wickham Market, Suffolk, was the eldest son of John Kirby [q. v.] (Page, Supplement to the Suffolk Traveller, pp. 189-90). About 1738 he settled at Ipswich as a coach and house painter. An early friendship with Gainsborough induced him to attempt landscape-painting. He made a number of drawings of monasteries, castles, churches, and monuments in Suffolk for a projected county history, and of these he published twelve, with an 'Historical Account,' 8vo, Ipswich, 1748, the plates etched by himself, followed by a series engraved by J. Wood. He also studied linear perspective, upon which he lectured at the St. Martin's Lane Academy, London. In 1754 he printed at Ipswich, in quarto, 'Dr. Brook Taylors Method of Perspective made easy, both in Theory and Practice,' 2 pts., founded upon Taylor's two treatises on linear perspective, published respectively in 1715 and 1719. The book is illustrated with a curious frontispiece by Hogarth, and fifty copperplates, mostly engraved by Kirby himself. It was reissued in 1755, 1765, and in 1768, with additions. Having secured warm friends in Hogarth and Sir Joshua Reynolds, Kirby went to London. Through the Earl of Bute he was appointed teacher of perspective to the Prince of Wales, afterwards George III, by whom he was appointed clerk of the works at Kew Palace. Under the patronage of the king, who defrayed the expense of the plates, Kirby published in 1761 a splendid folio volume entitled 'The Perspective of Architecture, in two parts, … deduced from the Principles of Dr. Brook Taylor; and performed by two Rules only of universal application.' He appears to have designed in 1762 St. George's Chapel, Old Brentford, Middlesex (Dict. of Architecture, Architect. Publ. Soc., vol. iv.) About 1767 he published 'Dr. Brook Taylor's Method of Perspective compared with the Examples lately published … as Sirigatti's by J. Ware … being a Parallel between those two Methods of Perspective. In which the superior excellence of Taylor's is shewn,' 4to, London. On 26 March 1767 he was elected F.R.S. (Thomson, Hist. of Royal Soc. App. iv. p. lii), and F.S.A. on the following 4 June (Gough, Chronological List of Soc. Antiq. 1798, p. 20). He was secretary, and in 1768 elected president, of the Incorporated Society of Artists, in place of Francis Hayman [q. v.], at the instance of a discontented clique; but resigned the post the same year on the plea of ill-health. From 1765 to 1770 he exhibited with the society views in Richmond Park, Kew, and the neighbourhood. His drawings of Kew Palace were engraved by Woollett in 1763 (Redgrave, Dict. of Artists, ed. 1878, p. 251). Kirby died on 20 June 1774, aged 58, and was buried in Kew churchyard. Such was Gainsborough's regard for Kirby, that he made a special request in his will that he might be buried by his side—a desire which was carried into effect (Faulkner, Brentford, &c., 1845, pp. 128, 131, 156-157). A portrait of Kirby by Hogarth was in 1867 in the possession of Mr. George C. Handford, and a portrait of Kirby and his wife by Gainsborough was in 1868 in the possession of the Rev. Kirby Trimmer. A mezzotint portrait of Kirby, by J. Dixon, from the painting by Gainsborough, and an engraving by D. Pariset, from a picture by P. Falconet, are also known (Evans, Cat. of Engraved Portraits, i. 197). Kirby married Sarah Bull of Framlingham, Suffolk, who died in 1775. His son William, who was in 1766 a member of the Incorporated Society of Artists, died suddenly at Kew in 1771; his daughter Sarah, afterwards married to James Trimmer of Brentford, was a popular writer of books for the young [see Trimmer]. Kirby was uncle of William Kirby (1759-1850) [q. v.], the entomologist.
[Memoir, principally compiled by Mrs. Trimmer, in Nichols's Biog. Anecdotes of Hogarth, No. 8; Life of Mrs. Trimmer; Catalogues of the Second and Third Special Exhibitions of Nat. Portraits at South Kensington; Gough's British Topography, Suffolk; Edwards's Anecdotes of Painters; Gent. Mag. new ser. xxxiv. 219.]