Henry Meyer

Born 1782
Died 1847
Place of Birth London
Place of Death London
Gender Male
Biographical Notes From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Portrait painter and engraver, was born in London and baptized on 10 February 1784 at St Paul's, Covent Garden, Westminster, London, the son of John Henry Meyer, engraver, and his wife, Elizabeth. He was the nephew of John Hoppner (1758–1810), painter; listing the mourners at Hoppner's funeral, the painter Joseph Farington recorded ‘Mier [Meyer], miniature painter, Hoppner's nephew’ (Farington, Diary, 10, 3594, 8 Feb 1810). After schooling at Christ's Hospital he was apprenticed to Benjamin Smith, an engraver, and next became a pupil of Francesco Bartolozzi, in whose stippled manner he learned to engrave; he also worked in mezzotint. He painted portraits in oil and watercolours and exhibited twelve of these at the Royal Academy between 1821 and 1826, including one of the author George Dyer (1819, exh. RA, 1821; FM Cam.). He also painted portraits of Dr George Pinckard, physician to the dispensary; William Blair, surgeon to the dispensary; and Stephen Hough, vestryman, which he presented in 1823/4 to the Bloomsbury Dispensary (the Bloomsbury Sick Infirm Poor Fund), by whom the portraits were later loaned to the church of St Giles-in-the-Fields, London. Meyer was a foundation member of the Society of British Artists, of which he was president in 1828. He retired from that office in the following year, however, and ceased to exhibit with the society in 1833. To its first exhibition in 1824 he sent eight portraits, two sketches in chalk, and forty-three engravings. In 1826 he exhibited a drawing of Thomas Telford and a half-length portrait of Charles Lamb (1826; BL, India Office Collections, F107; reduced-size copy, NPG). Crabb Robinson recorded, on 26 May 1826, calling on Meyer of Red Lion Square, where Lamb was sitting for his portrait. A strong likeness but it gives him the air of a thinking man and is more like the framer of a system of Philosophy than the genial and gay author of The Essays of Elia. (Walker, 1.304) Meyer's own engraving after the portrait was published by Henry Colburn in Leigh Hunt's Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries (1828). He exhibited a portrait of the actor Benjamin Webster in 1831; his portrait of Edmund Kean as Alanienouidet, chief and prince of the Huron tribe of Indians (exh. 1833), is in the Garrick Club, London, together with further actors' portraits by Meyer. Meyer's refined stipple engravings, for which he is now chiefly remembered, form elegant portraits of leading figures of literary and artistic, as well as court, society. Several of these (he produced over 200) were published between 1810 and 1820 in Contemporary Portraits and the New Monthly Magazine. They included Byron, after James Holmes and G. H. Harlow; Scott, after Raeburn; Samuel Rogers; Francis Jeffrey; Wordsworth; and Coleridge, after C. R. Leslie. His small engraving (proof impression, BM) after a portrait of Keats by Joseph Severn, which was reproduced in Hunt's Lord Byron (1828), is particularly fine. Among the artists whose portraits he engraved were Benjamin West, Sir David Wilkie, James Northcote, Gainsborough, and John Hoppner (the last two after self-portraits). In his diary Farington records the progress of Meyer's engraving of his own portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence. His other engraved subjects included the actresses Mrs Mardyn (1836, from a portrait painted in 1816) and Eliza O'Neill (as ‘Belvedera’, after A. W. Devis); the publisher John Boydell, after Gilbert Stuart; and Erasmus Darwin. Of Meyer's engravings after three separate portraits of Byron—by George Sanders (c.1812), George Henry Harlow (1815), and James Holmes (1815/16)—the latter, engraved by 1818, when Byron requested his publisher, John Murray, to send ‘half a dozen of the coloured prints from Holmes's miniature’ (Byron's Letters and Journals, 6.27), is Meyer's most successful engraving of the poet, who took a keen interest in the reproduction of his portraits. A few of Meyer's prints were hand-coloured by Holmes, who worked closely with the engraver to provide copies for the publisher and wrote to Murray that ‘the colour'd copy will be similar to the portrait of Lord Byron & the plain impression will be highly finished’ (Peach, 74). Byron later wrote to a young admirer that ‘A painter by the name of Holmes made (I think the very best) one of me in 1815—or 1816—and from this there were some good engravings taken’ (Byron's Letters and Journals, 10.75). Meyer's engravings of portraits of royalty include those of George IV; Prince Leopold, afterwards king of the Belgians; Princess Charlotte, after whole-lengths by A. E. Chalon; and Frederick William, duke of Brunswick, after J. P. Zahn. He contributed illustrations to Sir George Nayler's sumptuously produced The Coronation of His Majesty George IV (1837). His engraved portraits of the aristocracy included those of Admiral Viscount Nelson; Marquess Wellesley; Lady Leicester, afterwards Lady de Tabley, as ‘Hope’, after Sir Thomas Lawrence; and Sarah Sophia, countess of Jersey, after a miniature by George Sanders. He also engraved historical and subject pictures, of which a list is given in the Dictionary of National Biography. Meyer married, on 4 June 1805, Maria (1784–1856), daughter of Bernard Geary Snow, surgeon and apothecary, of Southam, Warwickshire. They had five sons and five daughters born between 1807 and 1828. He suffered financial problems, and was declared bankrupt in 1828 and again in 1840, when he was imprisoned for debt. He died of cancerous disease of the bladder at 68 Judd Street, St Pancras, London, on 28 May 1847, aged 65. Three of his sons became artists: Frederick John Meyer (b. 1807), Henry Meyer (b. 1817), and Bernard Francis Hoppner Meyer (1811–1888). The latter worked extensively as a portrait painter and engraver in North America, frequently under the name Hoppner Meyer, and has sometimes been confused with his father.

Annette Peach, ‘Meyer, Henry (1782/3–1847)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18635, accessed 6 June 2013]

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