Knapton, George (DNB00)


KNAPTON, GEORGE (1698–1778), portrait-painter, born in London in 1698, was a son of James Knapton, a prosperous bookseller in Ludgate Street. He studied under Jonathan Richardson [q. v.], and at first practised chiefly in crayons. He spent some years in Italy, where he became known to English travellers as a sound judge of the works of the old masters, and an interesting account, which he sent to his brother Charles, of a visit to the newly-opened-up city of Herculaneum, was printed in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ of 1740, No. 458. Knapton was an original member of the Society of Dilettanti and their first portrait-painter; at a meeting of the society, 4 Jan. 1740, it was ordered ‘that every member of the society do make a present of his picture, in oil-colours, done by Mr. George Knapton, a member, to be hung up in the room where the society meets,’ and at a meeting in February 1744 ‘that every member who has not had his picture painted by Mr. Knapton by the meeting in February next year shall pay one guinea per annum till his picture be delivered in to the secretary, unless Mr. Knapton declares it is owing to his want of time to finish the same.’ Accordingly, before 1749 he painted the portraits of the first twenty-three members, most of them in fancy characters or costumes; these, which are some of his best works, include the Duke of Dorset as a Roman general, Viscount Galway as a cardinal, Sir Francis Dashwood as St. Francis adoring the Venus de' Medici, the Earl of Holdernesse as a waterman, Mr. Howe drawing a glass of wine from a terrestrial globe, the Earl of Bessborough as a Turk, and Sir Bourchier Wray holding a punchbowl and ladle; they are all still in the possession of the society and were contributed to the National Portrait Exhibition of 1868. Knapton resigned the appointment in 1763, and was succeeded, after an interval of six years, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1750 the Prince of Wales commissioned Knapton, in conjunction with Vertue, to prepare a critical catalogue of the pictures at Kensington, Hampton Court, and Windsor, and in 1765 he succeeded Stephen Slaughter [q. v.] as surveyor and keeper of the king's pictures; he also had charge of Lord Spencer's collection at Althorp, Northamptonshire. Knapton's largest work was the group of the widowed Princess of Wales and her family, painted in 1751, now at Hampton Court, but that of the Earl of Upper Ossory and his brother and sister, at Woburn, and the portrait of the Earl of Burlington, at Hardwick Hall, are of better quality; the last has been engraved in Lodge's series. There are also portraits by Knapton of the Hon. John Spencer with his son, at Althorp, of Admiral Sir John Norris, at Greenwich, and of Francis, fifth duke of Leeds, in the possession of the present duke (a replica in the National Portrait Gallery); his portraits of Sir George Vandeput, bart., Archibald Bower, Nicholas Tindal, Hildebrand Jacob, Admiral Sir E. Hawke, and the singers, Carestini and Lisabetta du Parc, have been engraved. Knapton was a skilful painter, but not free from the stiffness and formality which characterised the art of his day. He assisted his brothers, John and Paul, who succeeded to and extended their father's business, in the production of several fine publications, including Birch's ‘Lives’ with heads by Houbraken, and Rapin and Tindal's ‘History of England.’ He died at Kensington December 1778, and was buried there on the 28th of that month.

Knapton, Charles (1700–1760), brother of George, engaged with Arthur Pond in the production of a volume of imitations of original drawings by the old masters, published in 1735. Of the seventy plates which constitute the work twenty-seven are by Knapton; these are chiefly after Guercino and are cleverly executed; they have been erroneously attributed to his brother. Charles Knapton died in 1760.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Walpole's Anecdotes (Dallaway and Wornum), p. 710; G. Scharf's Cat. of Pictures at Woburn Abbey, 1890; Vertue's manuscript collections in Brit. Mus.; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved British Portraits, 1793; An Account of the Portraits of the Dilettanti Society, 1885; Kensington parish register.]

F. M. O'D.