John Prescott Knight

(1803 - 1881)

He was born at Stafford, the son of the actor Edward Knight. After studying privately, he entered the Royal Academy as a student in 1823, and exhibited two portraits there the following year. In 1828 his “Whist Party” and “List, ye Landsmen” were hung at the British Institution. In 1835, he appeared with “Tam o' Shanter” at the Royal Academy, of which he became an associate in 1836, and professor of perspective (1839–60). From such subjects as:
“The Pedlar” (1831);
“Auld Robin Gray” (1829 and 1833); and
“Sunset” (1834).
He returned to portraits in large groups, such as the
“Waterloo Banquet” (1842) and
“Peninsular Heroes” (1848), as well as single portraits of the
“Duke of Wellington” for the London City Club,
“Duke of Cambridge” for Christ's Hospital, and
“Sir George Burrows” for Saint Bartholomew's Hospital.
He was secretary of the Royal Academy (1848–73), and exhibited there for the last time in 1878, “A Sandy Hillside.” -- The New International Encyclopædia

KNIGHT, John Prescott, a portrait painter, was bom at Stafford in 1803, and being intended for a mercantile career, he served for some time as clerk to a West India merchant. Owing to his master's failure he amused himself for some time in copying designs by West, in which he was so successful that his father allowed him to become a pupil of Sass and George Clint, and in 1823, a student of the Royal Academy. His first picture was sent to the Academy in 1824, and this was followed by portraits of Alfred Bunn, Miss Chester, Mrs. Terry, Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Glover, and his father Edward Knight, the comedian. The artist first appeared at the British Institution in 1828, with ' List, ye landsmen all, to me! ' and this was followed by 'The Whist Party,' 'Auld Robin Gray,' and 'Smugglers alarmed.' In 1836, he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1844, an Academician. He was also Professor of Perspective, and from 1848 to 1873, Secretary of the Royal Academy. His best-known work is the 'Waterloo Banquet' in the possession of the Duke of Wellington. He died in London in 1881.

Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1876

Knight, John Prescott, K, A. (Brit.) Born, 1803. He was the son of Edward Knight, a well-known actor, and began life in a merchant's office in London. Displaying a decided taste for art, he studied under Henry Son, and later under George Clint, entering the schools of the Royal Academy in 1823. His first pictures were at the British Institute in 1827 or 1828. He turned his attention to portrait-painting, in which branch of art he has been very successful. He was made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1836, Academician in 1844. He was Professor of Perspective for many years, and Secretary of the Royal Academy from 1847 to 1873, when he resigned with a life pension from the trustees. Among the many portraits of distinguished men painted by Mr. Knight may be mentioned those of the Duke of Cambridge (in Christ's Hospital), F. C. Burnand, Henry L. Holland, the Governor of the Bank of England, Edouard Frere, Arthur Grote, and Sir Titus Salt.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century; their Works, Biographical Sketches, Clara Erskine Clement & Laurence Hutton, 1879.

In 1847, Winterhalter, who was born in Mensenschwad, Germany and had studied painting in Monaco, was commissioned to paint the Queen in her robes and the image here [on the left] is the outcome of his efforts. It still hangs today at Windsor Castle, the official residence in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, England. British-born artist, John Prescott Knight was commissioned to copy Winterhalter's work. His fine copy graces the Tasmanian Legislative Council Chamber today. Details of how it got there are mentioned below.

Knight [1803-1881] was a member of the London-based Royal Academy of Arts, which was established in 1768, and its headquarters have been in Burlington House, Picadilly since 1868. The Academy is often known simply as 'RA' and Knight was duly elected by his fellow artists to be a Royal Academician (RA), hence his signature 'John P. Knight, ARA'. Other examples of his work, and that of John William Bullock Knight [apparently a brother] are held, for example, in the Tate Gallery, London.


Portrait of the Queen
Thomas George Gregson, first proposed allocating funds for a royal portrait on 28 April 1854 because Tasmanians were "separated from Your Majesty's gracious presence by half the circumference of the globe." Subsquently, on 19 September, Gregson gained the unanimimous support of his parliamentary colleagues to allocate 500 pounds "towards procuring a portrait of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen", because it would mean "having ever before us the resemblance of a Sovereign who unites in her person ... domestic virtue and queenly dignity."

However, it took until 6 November before Lieutenant Governor Sir William Denison advised the Legislative Council that he would send the portrait request to England, and he did so on 7 November. Next, on 5 September 1855, almost a year after Gregson's formal request, Parliament was advised that a reply had arrived from Downing Street. It was dated 25 May 1855 and unfortunately advised that Her Majesty was 'too busy' to "give the necessary sittings for an original portrait, but was graciously ready to give permission that a copy should be made by Mr J. Prescott Knight, Royal Academician, of Winterhalter's Picture of the Queen in Her Robes, which is considered to be one of the best portraits of her Majesty.

I have accordingly authorised Mr. Knight to make a copy of Winterhalter's portrait for the price of 250 guineas." So wrote John Russell, a British cabinet minister, and apparently the balance of the allocated funds went towards defraying freight and other 'incidental expenses', particularly a gold-embossed frame. Of interest, this frame mimics the original, except the royal crest encroaches upon the top edge of the original painting, and the still blank 'title' at the bottom has been added.

For the record Winterhalter was commissioned to paint the Queen in 1847, which was nine years after her coronation. By which time she had been on the throne for a decade, yet she was still only 28 years old. Nonetheless, whether Winterhalter painted Victoria aged 18 [1837], 19 [1838] or 28 [1847] is a matter of conjecture. Recall too that Winterhalter only met the Queen in 1842 when she was 23.

Moreover, on close comparison the depiction of her robes does not match her coronation attire: perhaps these robes were for other state occasions? These uncertainties aside, the original painting at Windsor Castle measures 2.7m x 1.7m [8 feet by 5 feet] while Knight's copy is larger at 4.5m x 2.4m [15 feet by 8 feet]. Despite its size, on 21 April 1856 Francis Hartwell Henslowe, the Clerk of the Legislative Council, noted that he 'had caused the Portrait to be unpacked and find it has arrived without injury'.

Knight [1803-1881], obviously proud to be an elected member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, whenever painting an original work, signed his name 'John P. Knight, ARA'. But in June 1858 an exhibition of 'Art Treasures' was held in the 'new' Legislative Council Chamber, which had been built in 1856. The catalogue for the exhibition lists '266 paintings and statuary' and No.1 is shown erroneously as 'Winterhalter, Queen Victoria'. Nonetheless, Knight's fine copy stills graces the Legislative Council Chamber today, having merely moved from the left to the right-hand side of the room in all these years.
© Copyright Ownership: 2010 Parliament of Tasmania

Terry Newman, Project Manager, November 2003

View painter's work: John Prescott Knight (1803-1881) [new window view]