Matthew William Peters, Portrait and Subject Painter

(b. 1741, d. 1814)

Portrait and Subject Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Matthew William Peters, R.A. Engraved by W. Leney, 1795.

His father, Matthew Peters, said to have been born in Belfast in 1711, was brought up as a gardener under his uncle who was employed by Lord Cobham at Stowe. He came to Ireland about 1742, and set up as a seedsman in Capel Street, and was much employed in laying out and improving gardens and estates. He did work at Marino for Lord Charlemont, and at several other noblemen's seats. The following advertisement appears in "Faulkner's Journal," 11th-14th Oct., 1746: "Matthew Peters, seedsman and gardener, removed from his seed shop in Capel Street to corner of Hammond Lane, next New Church Street, near Smithfield. Designs, draws and executes improvements for gentlemen in the most natural and rural taste, in which business he was bred up under his uncle, who was chief gardener to Lord Cobham at Stowe." He does not appear, however, to have left Capel Street, as an advertisement from that address appeared in "Faulkner's Journal" in December, 1748. In this he says that "he was brought into this kingdom by a gentleman of fortune and character from the gardens of Lord Cobham at Stowe." He is said to have been employed by the Irish Government in the improvement of the navigation of lakes and rivers; and he was author of several works on agriculture published between 1771 and 1776.*

His portrait painted by his son was engraved in mezzotint by John Murphy in 1778. The print is inscribed "Matthew Peters of Freshwater, Isle of Wight, Member of the Dublin Society and author of several treatises on tillage and agriculture." He married a daughter of George Younge of Dublin.

Matthew William Peters, the son of this marriage, was born, according to Redgrave and the matriculation register of Oxford, at Freshwater, Isle of Wight, in or about 1741, and while still an infant accompanied his parents to Ireland; but, according to a biographical notice in the "Hibernian Magazine" (Nov., 1794) he was born in his father's house in Capel Street. At an early age he entered the drawing school kept by Robert West in George's Lane, afterwards taken over by the Dublin Society, and his name appears as a prize-winner in 1756 and 1758. In 1759 he gained a premium from the Society of Arts in London for "A Gladiator dying." He displayed such marked talent and such promise of future excellence as a painter that the Dublin Society sent him to Italy to study, and made him an allowance of thirty pounds a year which was paid to him half-yearly through Lord Newtownbutler. He remained in Italy for some years, receiving his allowance during the whole of his stay, and was made a Member of the Florentine Academy in 1763.

He returned to Dublin in 1765 or early in 1766 with the intention of setting up in practice as a painter. The "Freeman's Journal" of 7th June, 1766, had some verses on his "performances"; but he did not find sufficient encouragement in Dublin, and in the same year went to London, and from Tavistock Row, Covent Garden, sent three drawings to the Society of Artists: "A Florentine Lady in a Tuscan Dress," "A Lady in a Pisan Dress" and a "Portrait of a Young Gentleman." In 1767 he exhibited a "Portrait of the Duchess of Ancaster" and one of "A Lady," and contributed portraits in crayons in 1768 and 1769. In 1768 he sent over a "Portrait of a Gentleman" to the Society of Artists in Dublin and exhibited with them again in 1777. He commenced his connection with the Royal Academy in 1769, when he sent to its exhibition a "Portrait of the Duchess of Ancaster," and in 1770 he showed a "Girl making Lace." He was elected an Associate of the Academy in 1771, and next year paid a second visit to Italy where he remained until 1774. He copied the "St. Jerome" at Parma as an altar-piece for the church at Saffron Walden, and from Venice he sent two portraits in crayons to the Academy in 1773; and works by him were in the exhibitions of 1776, 1777 and 1778, including "Mr. Wortley Montague in his dress as a Persian Prince" in 1776, and "Sir John Fielding as chairman of Quarter Sessions for the City of Westminster" in 1778. In 1777 he was elected a full Member of the Academy.

In 1779, on the 24th November, Peters matriculated in Exeter College, Oxford; was ordained in 1783, and became rector of Eaton, Leicestershire. He was rector of Wolsthorpe, Leicestershire, in 1788, Prebendary of Lincoln in 1795, and was also chaplain to the Prince Regent. In 1780, while at Oxford, he exhibited in the Academy, and he appeared there again in 1782 when he exhibited his "Angel carrying the Spirit of a Child to Paradise," and in 1785. He resigned his membership in 1790, and his only public appearance afterwards was in 1807 when he showed his "Fortune Teller" in the British Institution. He was patronized by the Dukes of Manchester and Rutland, and painted for the latter in 1782 a copy of Le Brun's portrait of "Madame de la Valliére" in the Carmelite church in Paris.

Peters painted portraits and historical pictures, and many of his religious and fancy subjects were engraved by Bartolozzi, John R. Smith, W. Dickinson and others. He did several scenes from Shakespeare for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery; two from the "Merry Wives of Windsor" and one from "Much Ado about Nothing" were engraved. After his ordination he painted a number of sacred subjects, and his pious families rising from their graves and little children going up to Heaven were popular as engravings. He was satirized by Peter Pindar (Dr. Wolcott), who called him "Luke the Saint," "a man of gospel, art and paint." An "Annunciation" painted in 1799 as an altar-piece for Exeter Cathedral, but removed about 1857, was the subject of coarse ridicule by Paley.

Peters died at Brasted Place, Kent, on 20th March, 1814.

By his wife, Margaret, daughter of the Rev. John Knowsley, of Burton Agnes, Co. York, he had, with other children, a son, Edmund, who took the name of Turton on succeeding, by will, to the property of Dr. John Turton, and was ancestor of the present family of Turton, of Upsall, Co. York.

Peters' work as a painter was very unequal; but in his portraits he shows a strength and ease in painting, with good colour, which raises him to a higher level than has hitherto been accorded him. Had he devoted his talents to portraiture instead of wasting them on his historical pictures and his ill-drawn, badly-coloured angels and pious children by which he is best known, he would have been regarded, and taken his place, as one of the best painters of the English school.

Among his principal works are:

Portrait of Himself. Engraved by W. Leney, 1795.

William Addington, Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1778.

The Princess Amelia. Christie's, 24th November, 1900.

Duchess of Ancaster. Soc. A., 1767; R.A., 1769.

Miss Bamfylde, Engraved, as Belinda, by R. Dunkarton, 1777.

George Monck Berkeley, LL.D. Engraved by W. Skelton as frontispiece to his "Poems."

Lady Charlotte Bertie. Engraved by W. Dickinson, 1778.

Anne Browne, as Clara in "the Duenna." Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1777.

Mrs. Cargill, as Clara, Engraved by J. Walker, and by V. M. Picot.

Lady Elizabeth Compton, [H. F. C. Cavendish.] Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1780.

Lord Courteney with group of children. R.A., 1780.

Sir John Fielding, as Chairman of Quarter Sessions for City of Westminster, R.A., 1778. Engraved by W. Dickinson, 1776.

Kitty Fisher. [The late J. Pierpont Morgan.] Reproduced in "Connoisseur," February, 1907.

Rev. Stephen Greenaway. Engraved by J. Basire, in Nicholl's "History of Leicestershire," 1794.

Philip, 4th Earl of Harborough. Christie's, Hon. W. Lowther's sale, 10th May, 1912.

Mary and Louisa Harris. [Max Michaelis.]

Francis and Emma Hinchcliff, as "Music." Engraved by H. Hudson, 1786.

John Hinchcliff, Bishop of Peterborough, preaching. Engraved by J. Young, 1788.

Mrs. Horneck—"The Country Girl." Engraved by W. Dickenson, 1778.

Mrs. Jordan (?). [The late J. Pierpont Morgan.] Reproduced in "Connoisseur," February, 1907.

Sir Archibald Macdonald. Belonged to Shepherd Brothers, King Street, St. James, in 1910.

George, 4th Duke of Manchester. R.A., 1785. Was destroyed by fire in the Freemasons' Hall, London. Engraved by W. Leney, 1796.

Miss Mathew. Engraved by J. Sanders.

Edward Wortley Montague in his dress as a Persian prince. R.A., 1776. [Duke of Sutherland.] Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1776.

Miss Mortimer, sister of J. H. Mortimer, the painter, as Hebe. Christie's, 14th December, 1907. Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1779.

Hon. Mrs. O'Neill. Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1778.

Matthew Peters, the painter's father. Engraved by John Murphy.

Lord Petre. R.A., 1785. Was destroyed by fire in the Freemasons' Hall, London.

George Pochin. Engraved by J. Dean, 1777.

Mrs. Pope and Mrs. Abington, in scene from "The Merry Wives of Windsor." [Max Michaelis.]

Harriett Powell. Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1776.

Sir William Robinson, Bart. Engraved by James Watson.

Charles, 4th Duke of Rutland. [Duke of Rutland, Belvoir.]

Mary Isabella, Duchess of Rutland. [Duke of Rutland, Belvoir.] Engraved by C. W. White, 1781.

Baron Silverhelm. Christie's, 30th March, 1901.

Rev. Joseph White. Formerly in the Bodleian Library, but was given back to the family. Engraved by Thomson.

George, Prince of Wales. Was destroyed by fire in the Freemasons' Hall, London.

The Lacemaker. Engraved by P. Dawe, 1772, Ex. R.A., 1770, as "Girl making Lace."

Lady with two children. Christie's, 13th December, 1912.

Two children with a jay in a cage. [Duke of Rutland, Belvoir.]

Madam de la Valliére. Copy of Le Brun's portrait in the Carmelite church, Paris, done for the Duke of Rutland in 1782. Was burnt in the fire at Belvoir in 1816.

A Country Girl. Burnt at Belvoir in 1816.

St. John. Burnt at Belvoir in 1816.

Lydia. Engraved by W. Dickinson in 1776, when the picture belonged to Lord Grosvenor.

Lydia, in bed. Perhaps the "Woman in Bed" in R.A., 1777. Engraved by J. R. Smith. Christie's, 28th February, 1913.

Sophia. Engraved by James Hogg, 1785.

Sylvia. Engraved by J. Walker.

Sylvia. Engraved by J. R. Smith.

Lucrece. Engraved by W. Dickinson, 1776.

The Three Holy Children. Engraved by Girard, 1784.

The Resurrection of a Pious Family. Collection of John Bentley, Birch House, Lancashire, and Portland Place, London, sold at Christie's in 1886 for 22 guineas to Messrs. Graves; and again at Christie's, 22nd March, 1908. Engraved by Bartolozzi.

The Angelic Child, Engraved by Bartolozzi.

An Angel carrying the Spirit of a Child to Heaven. [Marquess of Exeter, Burghley House.] R.A., 1782. Engraved by W. Dickinson, and by W. Sedgwick in "Hibernian Magazine," February, 1795.

The Spirit of a Child arrived in the presence of the Almighty. Engraved by F. Bartley, and published by W. Dickinson, 1787. Dedicated by Dickinson to Mary Isabella, Duchess of Rutland.

The Fortune-Teller. Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1786.

The Gamblers. Engraved by W. Ward, 1786.

Apotheosis of a beautiful Female. Engraved by Bartolozzi.

Death-bed of the Just. Engraved by Bartolozzi.

A Sclavonian Lady. Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1776.

A Cremonese Lady. Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1776.

A Venetian Lady. Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1776.

A Parmesan Lady. Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1776.

A Florentine Lady in a Tuscan dress. Soc. A., 1766.

A Lady in a Pisan dress. Soc. A., 1766.

The Charmers. Engraved by C. Knight, 1796.

The Chanters. Engraved by J. R. Smith.

Merry Wives of Windsor; Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page reading Falstaff's letters. Painted for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery. Engraved by R. Theu, 1793.

Merry Wives of Windsor; Falstaff in the basket of soiled linen. Painted for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery. Engraved by R. Theu and J. P. Simon, 1793.

Much Ado about Nothing, Act III, Scene I. Engraved by P. Simon, 1790.

Cardinal Wolsey and Campion's Visit to Queen Katherine. Painted for the Shakespeare Gallery.

Procession of Henry VIII, with the infant Princess Elizabeth. Painted for the Shakespeare Gallery.

Hero, Ursula and Beatrice. Painted for the Shakespeare Gallery.

Love in her Eyes sits playing. Christie's, 25th April, 1913. Engraved by J. R. Smith.

Love. A variation of last. Engraved by C. White.

Sleeping Nymph. Engraved by P. Simon.

Angels. Engraved by Bartolozzi.

Italian Fruit Girl. Engraved by R. J. Marcuard.

Adam's first sight of Eve. Ex. in 1788, pictures painted for Macklin's "Illustrations of British Poets," and also in 1791.

The Death-bed of the Poet. Macklin's Ex., 1791.

The Cherubs; said to have been daughters of Oldfield Bowles. Engraved by J. R. Smith, 1780.

The Triumph of Virtue. Christie's, Lord Blantyre's sale, 14th April, 1912. Engraved by Bartolozzi.

The Catholics of Dublin presenting an address to the Lord Lieutenant. Engraved by W. Sedgwick, in "Hibernian Magazine," 1795.


* 1. "The Rational Farmer, or a Treatise on Agriculture and Tillage." 1st Edition, 1770; 2nd, 1771. A frontispiece of Agricultural implements is signed M.P. del. 1771.

2. "Winter Riches, or a Miscellany of Rudiments, Directions and Observations necessary for the laborious Farmer, or a New System of Agriculture," etc, etc. By Matthew Peters, Member of the Dublin Society, etc. . . . London, 1771.

3. "Agriculture, or the Good Husbandman." London, 1776. An engraving of a Plough is signed M. Peters.

4. "De Rustica, or the Repository"; 2 vols.

She was perhaps the "Mrs. Peters" who was buried in St. Mary's, Dublin, on 3rd June, 1742. Peters appears to have married again in 1763 Anne Dupont of Dublin.

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