Poynter first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1861 and during the next few years produced a series of small pictures of Egyptian and Classical subjects. He also continued to paint in watercolour, frequently exhibiting small-scale portraits and landscapes at the Dudley Gallery, London.
During the late 1860s Poynter undertook a series of decorative commissions. He was also commissioned to decorate the lecture theatre apse at the South Kensington Museum. In 1871 he was appointed first Slade Professor at University College, London.
During the 1880s and 1890s he continued to produce large classical pictures. He next worked on his most ambitious picture, the Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon (1884–90; Sydney, A.G. NSW; see fig.); its numerous figures and elaborate detail recall his earlier imaginative reconstructions of history. Increasingly, however, the majority of his exhibition contributions were small-scale, classical genre pictures.
The latter part of Poynter's career was marked by increasing involvement in public office. From 1894 to 1904 he was Director of the National Gallery, London, the last practising artist to fill this position, and the purchases he made demonstrated an unusual catholicity of taste. He was knighted in 1896 and created a baronet in 1902. He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral, London.
H. Sharp: ‘A Short Account of the Work of Edward John Poynter RA', The Studio, v (1896), pp. 3–15
F. H. Jackson: ‘The Work of Sir E. J. Poynter, PRA: Viewed Mainly from the Decorative Side', Archit. Rev., ii (1897), pp. 3–13, 50–63, 118–30, 155–66, 224–31
C. Monkhouse: ‘The Life and Work of Sir Edward J. Poynter: President of the Royal Academy', Easter Annu. (1897), pp. 1–32
M. Spielmann: ‘Edward J. Poynter, PRA', Mag. A. (1897), pp. 111–20
L. Lusk: ‘Sir E. J. Poynter as a Water-colourist', A. J. [London] (1903), pp. 187–92
M. Bell: Drawings of Sir E. J. Poynter Bart, PRA: Modern Master Draughtsman (London, 1905)
A. Margaux: ‘The Art of Sir Edward J. Poynter, Bart: President of the Royal Academy', Windsor Mag. (1905), pp. 67–82
Project 5: Sir Edward Poynter PRA (exh. cat., ed. N. Draffin; Sydney, A.G. NSW, 1975)
P. Connor: ‘“Wedding Archaeology to Art”: Poynter's Israel in Egypt', Influences in Victorian Art and Architecture, ed. S. Macready and F. H. Thompson (London, 1985), pp. 112–20
A. Inglis: ‘The Medals of Sir Edward Poynter', Medal, vii (1985), pp. 17–31
——: ‘Sir Edward Poynter and the Earl of Wharncliffe's Billiard Room', Apollo, cxxvi (1987), pp. 249–55
J. Kestner: ‘Poynter and Leighton as Aestheticians: The Ten Lectures and Addresses', J. Pre-Raphaelite & Aesth. Stud., ii/1 (1989), pp. 108–120
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