Sir Edward   John   Poynter

(Paris, 20 March 1836 - 26 July 1919, Kensington, United Kingdom)

#The following biographical information about Poynter comes from Louisiana and the Fair by James William Buel, 1904, published to accompany the St. Louis Exposition, at which a couple of paintings by Poynter had been exhibited: "The Royal Academy, after losing in quick succession two such distinguished presidents as Lord Leighton and Sir John Millais, has been most fortunate in being able to select another so able as Sir Edward Poynter. This distinguished painter was a life-long friend of Lord Leighton. He was born in Paris in 1836, but lived his childhood in England. When he was seventeen he spent a winter in Rome, where he met Leighton, who at that time was working on his picture, "Cimabue's Madonna Carried Through Florence." It was in Leighton's studio that he decided to make art his profession. He studied in Paris in the studio of Gleyre, where Whistler, Du Maurier, and Val Prinsep were students at the same time, and afterwards he and George Du Maurier, Lamont, and Thomas Armstrong set up that studio in Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs which Du Maurier made so famous in Trilby, and which Sir Edward said "was a faithful description of their student life -- except there was no "Trilby." He was represented at St. Louis by "The Catapult," an incident in the seige of Carthage, lent by Sir C. Furness, M.P. This picture, together with "Israel in Egypt," is said to be typical of his first period; they are remarkable as studies of primitive mechanics and engineering, and the vigorous action of the figures. The "Catapult" is a huge, cumbersome machine composed of heavy beams which take up nearly the whole of the canvas. Four powerful men, with the help of a windlass, are pulling down an enormous lever. On the right a Roman captain on horseback is directing operations, and on the left some soliders, under cover of the catapult, are exchanging shots with the enemy. Could we have been choosers, we would have exchanged it gladly for the beautiful "Visit to Aesculapius," which is in the National Gallery and which is universally regarded as his "masterpiece." But we saw also "The Greek Dance" and "The Cave of the Storm Nymphs," lent by James Gresham, Esq., which illustrate what an excellent draughtsman he is of the human figure. Among his best-known pictures are "Atalanta's Race," "Faithful Unto Death," the latter showing a Roman soldier at his post in Pompeii until he was engulfed by a stream of lava,"Nausicca and Her Maidens Playing at Ball," "Zenobia Captive," and "The Ides of March." The care with which he draws the human figure is seen in his portfolio of drawings and studies for his pictures, as he not only draws the figure nude before draping it, but even the skeleton in the attitude required. His life has been one of hard work and many honors. He married in 1866, at Wolverhampton, Miss Agnes McDonald, one of whose sisters is Lady Burne-Jones, and another Mrs. Kipling, the mother of Rudyard Kipling. He is not only president of the Royal Academy, but the director of the National Gallery, the duties of which have been lately increased by the New National Gallery of British Art, and the Wallace Gallery."


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Poynter, like his sister, was also a talented linguist and spoke French and Italian well. His friend Adolphus George Charles Liddell noted in Notes from the Life of an Ordinary Mortal (1911), that when travelling with Poynter in Italy, "another advantage of Poynter's society was that, having been much in Rome as a young man, he was thoroughly up in Italian swear-words, and could frighten away the most persistent beggar or cicerone with the utmost ease."

Poynter's father was Ambrose Poynter, a distinguished architect and co-founder of the Royal Institute of British Architecture. His mother was a grand-daughter of the British Neo-classical sculptor, Thomas Banks, R.A. (1735-1805). His sister was Clara Courtenay Bell (1834-1927), a prolific professional translator (translating from German, French, Spanish and Italian) who was friends with Burne-Jones and George du Maurier (who thought her 'the cleverest woman of our acquaintance and the most exquisite amateur singer I ever heard'). Among the works she translated were Chesneau's Education of the Artist (1886), historical German romances by the Egyptologist Georg Ebers, and works by Guy de Maupassant, J.K. Huysmans and Balzac. (Information about Clara Courtenay Bell from The Oxford History of Literary Translators in English).

In 1860, Poynter executed the painted ceiling at Waltham Abbey to designs by William Burges. Burges wrote in 1860: "The flat plaster ceiling has been taken away, and the ceiling joists boarded. Upon this the outline and ornaments of the ceiling of the nave of Peterborough have been painted by Harland and Fisher, while the centres of the compartments have been filled by a series of paintings representing the labours of the year and the signs of the zodiac. These latter have been executed by Edward Poynter, Esq."


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Poynter, Edward J., R. A. (Brit.) Born in Paris, 1836. Son of Ambrose Poynter, an architect, and grandson of Thomas Banks, R. A., an eminent sculptor of the last century. Poynter was taken to England in his infancy, commencing the study of art in 1854. Went to Paris in 1856, studied under Gleyre, and was also a student of Tlicole des Beaux-Arts. He settled in London in 1860. In 1859, he exhibited in the British Institution, "Two Italian Pifferari"; in 1861, at the Royal Academy, "Alia Veneziana"; in 1864, "The Siren"; in 1865, "Faithful unto Death"; in 1866, "Offerings to Isis "; in 1869 (when he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy) he sent "Proserpine"; in 1870, "Andromeda"; in 1871, "The Suppliant to Venus"; in 1872, "Perseus and Andromeda"; in 1874, "Rhodope"; in 1876, "Cecil Wedgwood" and "Atalanta's Race "; in 1877, "The Fortune-Teller" (deposited on his election as an Academician); in 1878, "Zenobia Captive" and a portrait of Mrs. Langtry. Poynter was the first "Slade" Professor of Art at the University College, London, and for some time a Director of the Art Schools at South Kensington Museum. His "Ibis Girl," "The Golden Age," and "The Festival" were at Philadelphia in 1876. "Israel in Egypt," "Proserpine," and " The Catapult" were at Paris in 1878. He is also a contributor to the Grosvenor exhibitions.

" Among the younger painters of England whose work departs from traditions exclusively English, and is such as to take its place in the general stock of trained European art, Mr. Poynter is one of the most noteworthy. Were one to try to analyze the characteristics of this central example of Mr. Poynter's talent [' Israel in Egypt'], one would have to speak first of a clear and determined practical sense, showing itself in the carefully rational and probable arrangement of the general scene, and the effective realization and solution of every problem, whether of archaeology or mechanics, which it suggests." -- Sidney Colvin, in English Painters of the Present Day, 1871.

"The figure, although somewhat statuesque, is striking and graceful, and the birds are most picturesquely grouped, but the composition as a whole ['Feeding the Sacred Ibis in the Halls of Karnac '] loses much of its harmony in the engraving by the obtrusiveness of the background of Egyptian architecture with its redundancy of varied and prominent ornamentation." Art Journal, January, 1874.

"I wonder how long Mr. Poynter thinks a young lady could stand barefoot on a round-runged ladder ['The Festival'], or that a sensible Greek girl would take her sandals off to try, on an occasion when she had festive arrangements to make with care. The ladders themselves, here and in No. 236 ['The Golden Age'], appear to me not so classical or so rude in type as might have been expected, but to savor somewhat of expeditious gas-lighting. Both these pictures are merely studies of decorative composition, and have far too much pains taken with them for that purpose." -- Ruskin's Notes of the Academy, 1875.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works. By Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton. 1879.



The title of Baronet has been conferred upon the following: Sir Edward John Poynter, R.A., President of tbe Royal Academy since 1893. He has gained a world-wide reputation as an artist, while he also possesses great architectural skilL Born in Paris in 1836 (sic), be studied art in English and French schools under leading artists. He was admitted as an associate of the Royal Academy in 1869, and became a member of that institution eight years later. His first picture exhibited in the Academy was painted in 1867, and since that date he has exhibited on numerous occasions. He was knighted in 1896.

The Register (Adelaide, SA: Friday 27 June 1902) [Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia] © Ownership: Trove Digitised newspaper



External Links:
Ten Lectures on Art, by Edward John Poynter, R.A., Director for Art, Science and Art. Department Late Slade Professor, University College, (1880)

A New Series of Illustrated Text-Books of Art, edited by Edward J. Poynter, R.A., German, Flemish, and Dutch Painting, by E. J. Wilmot Buxton, M.A. and Edward J. Poynter, R.A., (1881)

Illustrated Text-Books of Art Classic and Italian painting, by Edward J. Poynter, R.A. and Percy R. Head, (1890)

Drawings of Sir E. J. Poynter, (1905)

A Biographical Dictionary of Historic Scholars, Museum Professionals and Academic Historians of Art

Edward J. Poynter, R.A. [findagrave.com]



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