Attributed to Thomas Stothard, 1755 - 1834
Portrait of the Actor John Emery 1777-1822 as Davy in "Bon Ton"
The Actor John Emery as Davy in "Bon Ton"

inscribed "Lunnon (Olde English for London) For Ever",

oil on board
25 x 19 cm. (10 x 7.3/4in.)


John Emery, (1777-1822), actor, was born in Sunderland, co. Durham, on 22 September 1777, and obtained a rudimentary education at Ecclesfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His father, Mackle Emery (1740-1825), was a provincial actor, and his mother, as Mrs Emery senior, appeared, in July 1802, at the Haymarket as Dame Ashfield in Thomas Morton's Speed the Plough and later played at Covent Garden. Emery was brought up to be a musician, and when he was twelve years of age was in the orchestra at the Brighton theatre. It was here that he made his first acting appearance, as Old Crazy in the farce Peeping Tom. In the summer of 1792 he was with John Bernard at Teignmouth and at Dover, where he played country boys; the following year he appeared at Plymouth. After a short engagement in Yorkshire with Tate Wilkinson, who predicted his success, he was engaged to replace Thomas Knight at Covent Garden, where he was first seen, on 21 September 1798, as Frank Oatland in Morton's A Cure for the Heartache, and where, in the next two years, he went on to play many other parts. In June 1800 he appeared for the first time at the Haymarket, as Zekiel Homespun in George Colman's The Heir-at-Law. At Covent Garden, in February 1801, he was the original Stephen Harrowby in Colman's The Poor Gentleman, and later in the same year, at the Haymarket, he played Clod in John O'Keeffe's The Young Quaker, Farmer Ashfield in Speed the Plough, and other parts. From this time until his death he remained at Covent Garden, with an interruption in August 1821 when he played at the English Opera House in a comic opera. In May 1802 Emery married Anne Thompson, the daughter of a tradesman. They had seven surviving children, one of whom, Samuel Anderson Emery, became a professional actor.

Emery's reputation as an actor had been established by his representation of country characters, parts he continued to play with great success. He was the original Dan in Colman's John Bull (1803), Tyke in Morton's The School of Reform (1805), Dandie Dinmont in Daniel Terry's Guy Mannering (1816), and Ratcliff in Terry's The Heart of Midlothian (1819). He was successful in Shakespearian parts as well, such as Barnadine in Measure for Measure, Caliban in The Tempest, Silence in Henry IV, Part 2, and Williams in Henry V.

Emery was about 5 feet 9 inches tall, robustly built, with a light complexion and light blue eyes; he looked like one of his own farmers. He sang well with a low tenor voice, composed the music and words of a few songs, and wrote comic effusions, one of which, a song entitled 'York, you're Wanted', enjoyed a long reputation. In addition he had considerable powers of painting, and exhibited between 1801 and 1817 nineteen pictures, chiefly sea pieces, at the Royal Academy. He drank to excess and was said to seek the society of jockeys and pugilists. He was a keen sportsman, a shrewd observer, and an amusing companion. He died of inflammation of the lungs on
25 July 1822 at his home in Hyde Street, Bloomsbury, London, and was buried on 1 August in a vault at St Andrew's, Holborn. A benefit performance was given at Covent Garden for his parents, widow, and children.

Artist biography

Stothard, Thomas (1755–1834), painter and book illustrator, was born on 17 August 1755 at the Black Horse inn in Long Acre, London, and baptized on 7 September at St Martin-in-the-Fields. His father, also Thomas Stothard (d. 1770), was a publican, originally from Stutton near Tadcaster, Yorkshire; his mother, Mary, née Reynolds, (1711/12–1799) was from Shrewsbury; they were married in London on 25 November 1751 at the church of St Botolph without Bishopsgate. Stothard's reputation as one of the foremost history painters of his day has not endured, although he is remembered as probably the most prolific book illustrator of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Thomas, an only child, was sent at the age of five to school in Yorkshire. He was later recorded as saying that it was while he was at school in Acomb, near York, that he first saw book illustrations by Jacobus Houbraken, which he gazed on ‘till a love of art grew within me’ (Bray, 3). After a spell at boarding-school in Ilford, Essex, he moved back to London in 1770, where he lived with his mother in Stepney Green. His father died that same year and left Stothard £1200, which gave him some security to pursue his chosen profession. That year he took up an apprenticeship with John Vansommer, a Huguenot silk weaver in Spital Square, with whom he served his first four years. After the death of his master in 1774, he completed the final three years of his apprenticeship with Vansommer's wife, Ann. In 1777 he exhibited his first works at the Society of Artists, two views of Caernarfon (probably drawn on a trip to north Wales that year) and a scene from Homer.

On 30 December 1777 Stothard entered the Royal Academy Schools in Maiden Lane, beginning what was to prove a lifelong relationship with the Royal Academy's teaching and administration. Here he established long-term friendships with John Flaxman and William Blake, and exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time in 1778. Most significantly, however, Stothard began producing illustrations for books, which was to prove a constant and lucrative source of income for the artist. Between 1778 and 1786 he produced forty-two illustrations for John Bell's Poets of Great Britain, 244 illustrations for John Harrison's Novelist's Magazine, ninety illustrations for G. Robinson's Ladies' Magazine, and numerous other smaller commissions. Stothard showed some of his original designs for these publications at Royal Academy exhibitions between 1780 and 1782 and in 1785. In addition he designed shop-cards, pocket books, and patterns for Wedgwood jasperware. This was to be the pattern of Stothard's work throughout his career, taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by publishing and the industrial arts, while maintaining a reputation in the more respectable reaches of high art.

In 1783 Stothard completed his studies at the Royal Academy, and on 17 August 1784, at St Martin-in-the-Fields, he married Rebecca Watkins (1760/61–1824), a 23-year-old Anabaptist, and moved into Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. His prolific commercial output over the following years may be partly explained by the fact that the Stothards subsequently had eleven children, six of whom survived infancy. His style at this time was relatively flat and decorative, probably derived from his training as a silk pattern designer, but also showing the influence of Hubert François Gravelot's graceful illustrations. His single illustration for George Raymond's New, Universal and Impartial History of England (c.1786),Boadicea Queen of the Iceni Burning the City of London, stands out from Samuel Wale's more sculpted and domestic scenes for the same work, in its flowing composition and striking pattern of flames. Stothard's illustrations of British history graced several editions of David Hume's History of England in the 1790s—notably in his headpiece depicting the murdered princes in the Tower for Thomas Cadell's 1789 edition, a subject which Stothard painted in oil on a grander scale for Bowyer's Historic Gallery (1790–1806), a sketch for which is in the Tate's Oppé collection.

The exhibition of works for Bowyer, alongside other oil paintings such as Jacob's Dream for Macklin's Bible in 1791 (ex Christies, 11 October 1946) and The Dryads Finding Narcissus(exh. RA, 1793; Tate collection) began to establish Stothard's reputation as a history painter, in one case attracting comparisons with Correggio and Parmigianino (Bennett, 22). He was elected ARA in 1791 and RA in 1794. Sufficiently respected to command prices of about 30 guineas for an easel work, and £1 for a drawing, Stothard felt secure enough in 1793 to spend his inheritance on a house at 28 Newman Street, London, where he lived for the rest of his life. Despite his growing reputation as a painter, book illustration seems still to have been his steadiest form of income. Many of his illustrations were for reissues, as in his celebrated illustrations for John Stockdale's edition of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe in 1790 (a sketch for Robinson Crusoe Building his Canoe is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and it is clear that Stothard's images were an important factor in their popularity.

Stothard's exposure in the 1790s was enough to win him influential patrons. Samuel Rogers, the poet, employed him to illustrate his Pleasures of Memory in 1794 and later his poemItaly, and on decorations for his house at 22 St James's Place. Between 1799 and 1803 Henry Cecil, first marquess of Exeter, paid Stothard approximately £1300 for three decorative history paintings for the grand staircase at Burleigh House, such as Intemperance, an allegorical rendering of Cleopatra dissolving a pearl in a glass of wine.

Perhaps Stothard's most famous commission, however, was in 1806 from the engraver Robert Cromek, who paid £60 for a painting from Chaucer, The Pilgrimage to Canterbury, which Stothard painted in a flat frieze-like form. The apparent attention to period detail and the historicity of the style convinced contemporaries of an authenticity in Stothard's portrayal. Cromek exhibited the work in several locations across England and Scotland, and subsequently sold the original for £300 (Tate collection). Stothard produced three copies in oil for his patrons Samuel Rogers, Samuel Boddington (ex Christies, 25 April 1975), and J. Benson of Doncaster, and several watercolour versions. The engraving after the work, begun by Louis Schiavonetti and finally completed by James Heath in 1817, was one of the most successful prints of the century. The print caused a well-documented spat, however, with William Blake, who claimed that he, not Stothard, had originally received the commission and Stothard had simply developed his design.

Another significant patron was Colonel Thomas Johnes, who employed Stothard to teach his daughter, Mariamne, at Hafod House, Cardigan, about 1805. Johnes's last edition of his translation of Monstrelet's chronicle appeared in 1810, and he employed Stothard to paint eight grisaille panels from this text for his library at Hafod (removed after 1833). When Mariamne died in July 1811 Stothard is thought to have produced a sketch for her monument, executed by Francis Chantrey; further, he is later thought to have supplied a version of hisMurdered Princes design for Chantrey's Sleeping Children (1817; Lichfield Cathedral). This is an area of some ambiguity, however, and some Chantrey scholars doubt Stothard's involvement. It would not be surprising, however, if Stothard were involved for he had little difficulty adapting his designs to different media. In 1809–10 he produced transparencies for the fiftieth jubilee of George III (des., oil sketch, Oppé collection, Tate), and in 1814 produced a design for a silver-gilt dish depicting Bacchus and Ariadne (Royal Collection), for the silversmithing firm of Philip Rundle and John Bridge. The same year he successfully undercut the other competitors for the commission to design a silver shield to be presented to the duke of Wellington by the merchants and bankers of London (Wellington Museum, Apsley House, London). Stothard made the clay model for the shield after the silversmiths' (Green, Ward, and Green) modeller died. Afraid that his ideas would be stolen, Stothard also produced etchings of the design, later published by McQueen & Co. in 1820 (Apsley House, London). In 1816 he produced designs for a giant pair of silver Wellington candelabra, and in 1820 designed the Royal Academy's new medal to mark George IV's accession.

This willingness to design for any medium may have been precipitated by the post-war slump in the book market, causing Stothard to look beyond book illustration for his basic income. The end of the war in 1815, however, gave Stothard the chance to visit Paris with Chantrey, where at the Louvre he studied Raphael's Transfiguration (sketches, BM and AM Oxf.). He also appears to have taken Watteau as his model for his history paintings, returning to exhibit subjects such as Sans souci (exh. RA, 1817; Tate collection) and Fête champêtre (exh. RA, 1818), which suited contemporary taste.

After 1820 Stothard's book illustration work revived, and kept him in constant employment for the rest of his life. The commission to illustrate George Thomson's Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (c.1818–1825; sketches in the Huntington Library, California) supplied Stothard with another regular, if exacting, patron, and added to his portfolio of Scots poetry. Stothard had visited Scotland in the summer of 1809 to research his twelve illustrations for Cadell and Davies's edition of Robert Burns's Poetical Works (1814), and further illustrations appeared in Joseph Ritson's Caledonian Muse (1821). By this time Stothard was charging up to £5 simply for a vignette design. Twenty-six of Stothard's illustrations adorned William Pickering's edition of Shakespeare's Plays (1823–5), and Pickering employed Stothard to produce ten Watteauesque illustrations for Boccaccio's Decamerone in 1825 (exh. RA, 1819). Perhaps the climax of Stothard's illustration was the twenty works for Rogers's Italy in 1830. Stothard was employed to illustrate figure scenes, while J. M. W. Turner executed landscapes. Stothard's scenes (such as Jorasse, engraved by Finden) are more delicate than Turner's, but the fact that the works were to be engraved in steel demanded a more intricate technique than Stothard had formerly employed. Rogers reputedly spent £2016 on the embellishments to his work, although he soon recouped this through extensive sales. William Wordsworth said of the work that ‘the plates made it sell, for in the poetry there's nothing—absolutely nothing’ (Bennett, 26).

Stothard was by now a respectable part of the Royal Academy establishment. He had been made deputy librarian in December 1810 and librarian in 1812, a post that he held until his death and which gave him the opportunity to amass research for his unpublished ‘Dictionary of the lives of painters’. In the 1820s he was employed to paint a Gothic altarpiece for William Beckford at Fonthill Abbey (dismantled 1822). In 1822 he was paid over £300 to paint a Raphael-inspired frieze, Apollo and the Muses, for the dome of the Faculty of Advocates library in Edinburgh. Between 1828 and 1830 he was commissioned to produce decorative designs for the interior of Buckingham Palace, the sketches for which are in the British Museum.

Stothard's family life was tinged with some tragedy, the first instance of which was the death of his eldest son, Thomas, in a shooting accident in 1801. In 1821 another son, Charles Alfred Stothard, a noted antiquary, died suddenly, and in 1822 his third son, Henry, suffered a paralytic stroke. The deaths of his wife, Rebecca, and his friend Flaxman in 1824 seem to have led him to withdraw from the world, although he continued to work almost to the end. In the autumn of 1833 he was hit by a carriage and incapacitated, and on 27 April 1834 he died in London, aged seventy-nine. He was buried in Bunhill Fields.

In his will Stothard left £5080, along with his house, furniture, paintings, designs, and collection of prints (all valued at £2482) to his remaining children, Emma, Henry, Robert, and Alfred. This large sum, commented upon in the news of the day, was testimony to Stothard's industry and high contemporary reputation. More than one hundred oil paintings by him were sold at Christies shortly after his death (June 1834), and estimates of his surviving designs vary between 4000 and 10,000. Dobson later wrote that ‘the story of Stothard's life has little memorable but the work that filled and satisfied it’ (Dobson, 258). Apart from some possible radical political affiliations in his youth, biographers have found little to contradict the picture of Stothard as a placid, assiduous artist, responsive to the instructions of patrons, loyal to his family and friends and to the Royal Academy.

Stothard's posthumous reputation has been uneven. Anna Eliza Bray, in keeping with the eulogistic tone of her work, acclaimed her father-in-law in 1851 as ‘the greatest historical painter this country ever produced’ (Bray, 11). Her comparisons with Raphael were not out of keeping with the high opinions expressed by Stothard's contemporaries (Turner likened him to Giotto). Numerous contemporary patrons and artists possessed large collections of Stothard's work, such as Robert Balmanno's collection of over 2000 works (acquired by the British Museum in 1849). By 1906, however, Coxhead could claim that a ‘ball-ticket of his handwork is often a more valuable possession than many of his ambitious historical paintings’ (Coxhead, Monograph, 7), and devoted his account to Stothard's illustrative work. As Strong noted, however, Stothard's British history subjects, with their antiquarian detail, deserve recognition alongside Benjamin West's as key works in the development of the reconstructive Victorian historical genre. Most recently Bennett has focused on the artist's whole prolific and fluid career as a means to illuminate the changing mechanisms of artistic patronage in the early industrial period.

M. G. Sullivan   DNB