DIXON, JOHN

(b. about 1740, d. 1811)

Mezzotint Engraver

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Was fourth son of Thomas Dixon, a hosier carrying on business at "The Royal Stocking," Cork Hill, Dublin, who died on 10th April, 1758, leaving four sons, William, Thomas, Samuel, and John, as appears by his will made the same day. John Dixon, who was born about 1740, studied in the Dublin Society's drawing school, and probably worked with his brother Samuel (q.v.) in the production of the latter's basso-relievo prints of birds and flowers, and as an engraver of the copper plates used in the linen-printing works at Leixlip. In 1760 he engraved John Rocque's large Map, in four sheets, of the County of Dublin. A "Portrait of Admiral Boscawen," Dixon sculpt., and one of "The Marquess of Granby," J. Dixon sculpt., are in "The Annual Register, or the History of the present Year ... to end of campaign of 1761," published by J. Exshaw in Dublin. An advertisement in "Faulkner's Journal," 27th February, 1762, refers to "Views of Powerscourt," by George Barret, to be engraved by Dixon; but these engravings have not been met with and were probably not actually done. Dixon's earliest known mezzotint is the portrait of "Nicholas Viscount Taaffe," after Robert Hunter (q.v.), which he published himself in the summer of 1763 at the house in Cork Hill where his brother Thomas was carrying on his father's business as a hosier. For this print he was awarded a premium of five guineas by the Dublin Society, and was at the same time given a further premium "for several engravings of landscapes from original designs" ("Faulkner's journal, 4th March, 1763). The print of Lord Taaffe was praised in some verses in "Sleator's Public Gazetteer" for 12th March, 1763, and the engraver referred to as:

"Dixon, that youth accomplished to impart

The justest transcript with the finest art."

The only other mezzotint known to have been done by him in Dublin is the portrait of "William Carmichael, Bishop of Meath," after J. Ennis (q.v.). Bromley mentions two prints, whether mezzotint or otherwise is not stated, of Brockhill Newburgh, poet, of Ballyhaise, Co. Cavan, after La Nauze, a Dublin painter, which were probably done in Dublin.

In or about 1765 Dixon went to London, and in the following year, 1766, he exhibited two mezzotints at the Society of Artists, a "Portrait of Joshua Kirby," after Gainsborough, and "A Boy," after F. Hals; his address being then Spur Street, Leicester Fields. In 1768 he was in Greek Street, Soho, and the following year in Broad Street, opposite Poland Street, whence he moved in 1771 to "Kempe's Row, opposite Ranelagh Walk, near Chelsea." He became a member of the Society of Artists in 1772, a director in the following year, and he contributed nineteen mezzotints to its exhibitions between 1766 and 1775. He also exhibited two drawings—a drawing from a portrait by Rembrandt in 1769, and a drawing in crayons, after Correggio, in 1773. He published several of his mezzotints himself; others were published by Ryland and Bryer at the King's Arms in Cornhill, by J. Boydell, John Bowles and others.

In Chelsea, Dixon had become acquainted with Nicholas Kempe, "Bullion Porter" at the Royal Mint and one of the original proprietors of the Ranelagh Gardens, and his wife Ann, elder daughter of Henry Meriton of Chelsea, a famous beauty whom Romney had painted with a pug dog in her lap. Kempe died in 1774, leaving most of his fortune to his wife; and on the 15th July, 1775, Dixon married the young widow at St. George's, Hanover Square. Henceforth he followed his profession only as an amusement. A tall, handsome man, fond of society and good company, he was now able to indulge his tastes; he lived fashionably and entertained his friends among whom he numbered Burke and Garrick. His latest dated print is a half-length portrait of Garrick, published by Robert Wilkinson in Cornhill in 1779. After the death of his wife Dixon had an addition to his income from a bequest of her sister, Henrietta Maria Meriton. He then went to reside at 5 (afterwards 14) Phillimore Place, Kensington. He had long abandoned engraving and busied himself in a scheme for establishing a national fishery on the south, west and north-west coasts of Ireland, as the "most immediate and effectual relief for the poor of these kingdoms." In 1801 he became a member of the Society of Arts. He died in December, 1811, and his will was proved in January, 1812.

As a mezzotint engraver Dixon takes high rank, especially by his brilliant prints after Reynolds. His work is distinguished by artistic feeling and faithfulness to the original; his plates are carefully grounded, resulting in richness of tone, though sometimes too black. He used a good deal of etching and engraving in his plates as may be seen, for example, in his fine print of the Duke of Leinster, described by Walpole as "a masterpiece of Art which has never been excelled," wherein he used the dry-point in the fur and coat.

PRINTS PUBLISHED IN DUBLIN

William Carmichael, Bp. of Meath; after J. Ennis.

Nicholas Viscount Taaffe; after R. Hunter. Dedicated to John Ponsonby, Speaker of the House of Commons. Published by Dixon himself in 1763, "At Thomas Dixon's, Hosier on Cork Hill" ("Sleator's Public Gazetteer").

Brockhill Newburgh, of Ballyhaise, County Cavan; after La Nauze. In line, half length, 4 by 3 ¾ inches, oval, probably done in Dublin. Bromley mentions two prints.

Map of County of Dublin; after J. Rocque. A large map in four sheets, published by J. Rocque in 1760.

PRINTS PUBLISHED IN LONDON

Mary, Duchess of Ancaster; after Reynolds. Exhibited by Dixon at the Society of Artists, London, in 1767.

William J., Earl of Ancrum; after Gilpin and Cosway. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1773, and published the same year by J. Boydell and by Dixon himself in Kempe's Row, Chelsea.

Elizabeth, Countess of Ancrum; after Reynolds. A copy of Spilsbury's print, stated by Bromley to have been done by Dixon.

The Nabob of Arcot; after Ward. Published in 1772.

William Beckford; whole length, J. Dixon delt et Sculpt. Published by Dixon in 1769, in Broad Street, opposite Poland Street. The plate was originally a portrait of Benjamin Heath, after R. E. Pine. It was reissued, with considerable alterations, as a portrait of Beckford.

William Beckford; three-quarter length; J. Dixon del et fecit. Published in 1770 by Carrington Bowles.

Lady Mary Catherine Bertie; after Peters. J. Dixon fecit 1767.

Mrs. Blake, as Juno; after Reynolds. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1771 and published the same year by Dixon himself at Kempe's Row, Chelsea.

William Browne; after Hudson.

Henry, Duke of Buccleugh; after Gainsborough. Published in 1771 by John Boydell.

Lady Jane Clifford; after Kneller. Copy, in reverse, of portion of the print by John Smith. Published by John Bowles.

Barbara, Countess of Coventry; after Reynolds.

The Misses Crewe; after Reynolds. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1768. Published by Ryland and Bryer, and afterwards in 1782 by John Boydell. 

Miss Davidson; after Reynolds.

Robert Dingley, Treasurer of the Magdalen Hospital; after W. Hoare.

David Garrick; after N. Dance. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1772 and published the same year by John Boydell. Pasquin says that Dixon "surprised the admiring world with his exquisite engraving of Mr. Garrick in Richard III, after Dance."

David Garrick; after T. Hudson. Published in 1779 by Robert Wilkinson.

David Garrick, as Abel Drugger, with Wm. Burton and John Palmer; after Zoffany. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1771. Published in 1772 by J. Dixon in Kempe's Row, Chelsea.

David Garrick, as Abel Drugger; after Zoffany. Published in 1776 by Sayer, and republished in 1791.

Benjamin Heath; after R. E. Pine. See under Beckford.

Francis, Earl of Hertford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Published in London, but perhaps done in Ireland before Dixon left.

Rev. James Hervey; after J. Williams. Published by J. Bowles.

Joshua Kirby; after Gainsborough. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1766.

William Robert, 2nd Duke of Leinster; after Reynolds. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1775, and published the same year by Dixon himself in Kempe's Row. "Sir Joshua Reynolds was extremely fortunate in his engravers, the portrait of the Duke of Leinster engraved after him by Dixon is a masterpiece of art and has never been excelled" (Walpole's "Anecdotes of Painting," Dallaway's edition, Vol. III, p. 936).

Sir Joseph Mawbey; after R. E. Pine. Published by John Bowles.

Betty Munro; after Falconet. Published by Ryland and Bryer as "Betty."

Betty Munro. A smaller plate, 8vo., mentioned in Evans' catalogue.

Lady Mary O'Brien; after Reynolds. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1773 as "A Portrait of a Lady," and published in 1774 by W. W. Ryland. The print does not bear the name of the person represented, and has generally been described as a portrait of Nelly O'Brien, whom it in no way resembles. It represents Lady Mary O'Brien, daughter of the 5th Earl of Inchiquin and 1st Marquess of Thomond, afterwards, in right of her mother, Countess of Orkney. It appears that she was known in her family as Nelly, probably to distinguish her from her mother; hence the confusion.

Elizabeth, Countess of Pembroke, and her son, Lord Herbert; after Reynolds. Published in 1771 by Dixon in Kempe's Row, and by J. Boydell and S. Hooper.

Henry, Earl of Pembroke; after Reynolds. Published in 1769 by Ryland and Bryer. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1770.

William Powell; after Lawranson. Published in 1769 by J. Goldar.

William Robertson, D.D.; after Reynolds. Published in 1772 by Dixon and by Boydell and others. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1773.

Rev. Walter Shirley; after R. E. Pine. Published in 1773. Plate slightly reduced and republished in 1778 by C. Bowles.

John Taylor; after J. Smart.

Charles Townshend; after Reynolds. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1769; published in 1770 by W. W. Ryland.

John Wilks. Mentioned by Bromley as ad vivum 1770.

The Arrest. Dixon ad vivum delineavit et fecit. Sir Fopling Arrested. Drawn from a late real scene. Published in 1769 by John Bowles.

The Arrest. A smaller plate; published in 1768 by Bowles.

The Oracle. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1774, and published same year. The print, which is 20 ½ by 23 ¼ inches, is inscribed, Invt. Drawn and Engraved by Jo Dixon. Published according to Act of Parliament March 30th, 1774. In the exhibition catalogue it is described as "Britannia, Hibernia, Scotia and America as assembled to consult the Oracle on the present situation of public affairs; Time acting as priest. Dedicated to Concord. Invented, drawn and engraved by Mr. Dixon."

A Boy playing a Flute; after F. Hals. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1766.

Rembrandt's Frame-maker; after Rembrandt. Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1770. One of the engraver's finest plates.

"A Metzotinto from an Incantation painted by Mr. Mortimer." Exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1772.

A Tigress; after G. Stubbs. Exhibited at Society of Artists in 1773.

Ugolino and his Children; after Reynolds.

The Ludicrous Operation, or the Blacksmith turned Tooth-drawer; after J. Harris. Published in 1768.

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