Artist biography

English painter and writer. He was articled to an attorney on 18 July 1707. Bored with his duties, he abandoned law, setting up as a portrait painter in the City of London. He read widely and mastered Brook Taylor's system of perspective (1715). In 1732 he travelled to the Low Countries to study works by Rubens and van Dyck, and two years later he went to Paris. In the following years he secured commissions from the royal family, such as Queen Caroline of Ansbach (c. 1735; London, Hampton Court, Royal Col.).

In the 1740s Highmore's work was increasingly aimed at a middle-class clientele, his popularity with whom was in part due to his ability to capture a likeness in one sitting and to create an informal composition. This can be seen in his conversation pieces. His portraits of An Unknown Man with a Musket (1745; Cambridge, Fitzwilliam) and Samuel Richardson (1747; replica London, N.P.G.) are examples of the faithful likeness and unpretentious format sought by such sitters.

He sold the contents of his studio in 1762 and retired to Canterbury with his daughter and son-in-law. In retirement he pursued a second career, that of a writer, which he had begun in 1754 with a critical examination of Rubens's ceiling decorations in the Banqueting Hall, London.He also wrote a book on Brook Taylor's theory of perspective (1763), and his collection of moral essays (1766) included a consideration of why artists were not the only proper judges of art.

Obituary, Gent. Mag., l (1780), pp. 176–9
J. Scobell Armstrong: ‘Joseph Highmore: Painter and Author', Connoisseur, lxxxvi/350 (1930), pp. 209–19
‘Note-books of George Vertue', Walpole Soc., xxii (1933–4)
F. Antal: ‘Mr Oldham and his Guests by Highmore', Burl. Mag., xci (1949), pp. 128–32
Joseph Highmore (exh. cat., London, Kenwood House, 1963)
A. S. Lewis: Joseph Highmore, 1692–1780 (diss., Cambridge, MA, Harvard U., 1975)
J. W. Goodison: ‘Two Portraits by Joseph Highmore', Burl. Mag., lxxii (1983), pp. 125–6


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