John Preston Neale

Born 1780
Died 1847
Place of Death Tattingstone, near Ipswich
Gender Male
Biographical Notes Neale, John Preston (1780–1847), architectural draughtsman, is best remembered for his views of the nation's country houses, churches, and public buildings. Neale's parentage, background, and training are obscure. He is known to have had a brother and two sisters, and to have found early employment as a clerk in the General Post Office in Lombard Street, London. Neale's first exhibited works at the Royal Academy were two drawings of insects in 1797, and the earliest anecdote of Neale records his meeting in spring 1796 with John Varley, the watercolour painter, while Neale was in search of specimens in Hornsey Wood. The two began a lifelong friendship and collaborated on a work entitled The Picturesque Cabinet of Nature (published in 1796), for which Varley made the landscape drawings and Neale etched and coloured the plates.
Neale exhibited further drawings of insects at the Royal Academy in 1799, 1801 and 1803, but from 1804 to 1844 he exhibited topographical drawings and landscapes there and at the Society of Painters in Oil and Water Colours (1817–18), the British Institution (1808–43), and the Society of British Artists. Some of his works were in oil but his reputation rests on his architectural drawings, which are executed carefully with the pen and tinted with watercolours. In 1816 he began publishing the History and Antiquities of the Abbey Church of St. Peter, Westminster (2 vols., 1818–23), with a descriptive text by Edward Brayley. Neale's intense, dark scenes, peopled with enigmatic characters and ‘executed in the highest style of the English burin’ (Neale and Brayley, unpaginated), helped to fulfil the text's antiquarian purpose of producing a complete record of this ‘national structure’, and the illustrations serve now as an important historical record of the abbey's sculpture (the original drawings are in the Norfolk Record Office).
Neale's engraved drawings of Westminster Abbey were individually dedicated, and the practice of finding income through flattering drawings of the property of the church and aristocracy guided Neale's career. He next began, in 1818, his Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland (first series, 6 vols., 1824; second series, 5 vols., 1824–9); the entire work comprised no fewer than 732 plates. In 1824–5 he published, with John Le Keux, Views of the most Interesting Collegiate and Parochial Churches in Great Britain, but the work was discontinued after the issue of the second volume. Besides these works he published Six Views of Blenheim, Oxfordshire (1823); Graphical Illustrations of Fonthill Abbey (1824); and An Account of the Deep-Dene in Surrey, the Seat of Thomas Hope Esq. (1826). Many other works contain illustrations from his pen and pencil, and collections of his drawings and engravings after his works are held at the Guildhall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Nottingham Castle Museum, and the West Yorkshire Archive Service.
Neale died at Tattingstone, near Ipswich, on 14 November 1847, leaving a £500 life assurance policy to his son, the Revd Edward Pote Neale (b. 1800), himself an amateur topographical draughtsman who exhibited at the Royal Academy on a number of occasions after 1817. Neale also left to his son and second wife, Sarah Matilda, his publications, original sketches, paintings, and frames and his correspondence relating to the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen (which he asked to remain in the family as evidence ‘of what may be accomplished by labour’). Neale requested that he be buried in the same grave as his first wife, Ann, under the inscription: ‘John Preston Neale, architectural and landscape painter … he was the laborious author and illustrator of … Westminster Abbey and of several elegant publications.’
(ODNB, R. E. Graves, rev. M. G. Sullivan)