HOUSTON, RICHARD

(b. 1721 or 1722, d. 1775)

Mezzotint engraver

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Was born in Dublin in 1721 or 1722. He was perhaps a son of Richard Houston, baker, whose widow, Rachel, was granted by the Corporation of Dublin a sum of four pounds per annum in 1731 to assist her in maintaining her numerous family. He was apprenticed to John Brooks (q.v.), the engraver, and learned his art as a draughtsman and mezzotinter in his studio at the same time as McArdell, Purcell, Spooner and others. After Brooks left Dublin in 1746 Houston soon followed, and in 1750 we find a mezzotint portrait of Sir John Vandeput by him, published by John Brooks "at the request of the worthy electors of Westminster." He established himself "next the Golden Lion, Charing Cross," or, as the address more frequently appears on his prints, "near Drummonds at Charing Cross."

From this address he issued his fine series of statesmen after Hoare, as well as some of his most successful reproductions after Rembrandt and others. His work at this period shows extraordinary talent and a mastery of the mezzotinter's art, and his plates equalled anything done by McArdell. He started with every prospect of success and fame, but this fair promise was marred by his love of pleasure, his indolence and his dissipated habits, and as his difficulties accumulated he was obliged to give up his independent business and work for the print-sellers. He had gradually fallen into the hands of Sayer, the publisher, and was soon, through advances of payment for work, heavily in his employer's debt. Sayer, it is said, in order to get him to work, had him arrested and confined in the Fleet Prison so that, as he said, he would know where to find him. Sayer kept him well employed, often in copying other prints; but in all he did, Houston maintained a high standard of quality in his engraving and never sank to mere hack work, his plates always bearing the impress of his great technical and artistic powers. He eventually freed himself from prison and from Sayer's bondage, for from 1774 we find him working for Carrington Bowles. He died in Hatton Street, on the 4th August, 1775, aged 54.

Chaloner Smith catalogues one hundred and twenty-eight portraits by Houston. Besides these he produced a number of subject pieces, including some extraordinarily fine prints after Rembrandt and some, most daintily executed, after Philip Mercier, as well as the works of other painters. Rolt's "Lives of the Reformers," published in 1759, was illustrated with portraits "elegantly done in mezzotinto by Mr. Houston"; but these plates were really Faber's work re-lettered. He also scraped a copy of Prince Rupert's "Head of the Executioner," for the second edition of Evelyn's "Sculptura," published in 1755. His work also included a number of portraits of race-horses, a set of six after Seymour and twelve after Seymour and Spencer. Houston painted a few miniatures; one, of Penelope Pitt, he engraved himself in 1761.

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