Artist biography

English painter and Clergyman. Brought up in Dublin, where his father was a customs officer. By 1759 he was in London, studying under Thomas Hudson. From c. 1762 Peters travelled and studied in Italy. On his return to London in 1766, he exhibited at the Free Society of Artists two portraits of ladies in native Italian dress (untraced).

Early in his career Peters was a member of the Incorporated Society of Artists; later, he was elected ARA (1771) and RA (1778). He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy. In mid-life, however, he turned his attention to the Church and was ordained in 1783. He was made rector of Eaton, Leics, and afterwards chaplain to George, Prince of Wales, and to the Royal Academy, from which he resigned in 1790. This respectable and pious later career is somewhat surprising, since the pictures by which Peters made his early name were coquettish half-lengths of under-dressed young women. Highly popular and often engraved, these pictures were also considered slightly risqué. In style, Peters broke from the stodginess of his master, Hudson, and equally from the prevailing current of Neo-classicism. His surfaces were rich and painterly, his colours lush and high-keyed. Venice and Correggio meant more to him than Rome and Antiquity. Gradually, his subjects became more decorous. Towards the end of his career as a painter (from which he retired in 1788) he produced a few lugubrious sacred pictures, for example Angel Carrying the Spirit of a Child to Paradise (1782; Burghley House, Cambs).

Bibliography
DNB; Strickland; Waterhouse: 18th C.
V. Manners: Matthew William Peters (London, 1913)
E. K. Waterhouse: Painting in Britain, 1530–1790, Pelican Hist. A. (Harmondsworth, 1953, rev. 4/1978), pp. 291–3

PETER WALCH

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