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 Joshua Kirby  (1716 - 1774)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom      Known for: Painting, drawing

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Joshua  Kirby (1716-1774)

Born at Parham, Suffolk in 1716, second of the eleven children of John Kirby (1690-1753), schoolmaster and surveyor, and his wife Alice née Brown (1685/6–1766).  Educated at home at Wickham Market, Suffolk and Joshua assisted his father in his book, The Suffolk Traveller (1735) and a map of Suffolk (1736).  In 1739 he married Sarah (c.1718–1775), daughter of Abraham Bull of Framlingham and lived at Ipswich, where he had already joined a house- and coach-painting business.  In 1744 commissioned to design an altarpiece for St Mary's, Hadleigh, Suffolk and in 1748 Kirby published An Historical Account of the Twelve Prints of Monasteries, Castles, Antient Churches and Monuments, in Suffolk, the original twelve prints had been engraved in London by Joseph Wood.

Kirby's experience enabled him to assist his new friend Thomas Gainsborough with the painting of St Mary's, Hadleigh (c.1748; priv. coll.).  Kirby was in London in 1751 with William Hogarth and that spring he advertised Hogarth's prints for sale in the Ipswich Journal and invited subscriptions for his own Dr. Brook Taylor's Method of Perspective Made Easy, both in Theory and Practice that was published in February 1754 and dedicated to Hogarth, who contributed the comic frontispiece.  In the previous month the Academy of Painting and Sculpture had approved Kirby's three lectures on perspective and his book, and elected him a member.  Reprinted three times (1755-1768) with additions and became the standard exposition of perspective for British artists until superseded by Thomas Malton's treatise in 1775.  Hogarth stood firm with Kirby on disputed points, an association which led to Kirby's being featured in two of Paul Sandby's satirical prints on Hogarth's Analysis of Beauty in 1754. 

Through the good offices of the earl of Bute, Kirby became teacher of perspective and fortifications to the Prince of Wales in 1756 and leaving his Ipswich business in the hands of Andrew Baldry (1728-1802) with his family moved to Great Queen Street, London and Baldry acquired the business in 1759 when Kirby moved to Kew Green, Richmond, Surrey. In 1761 Kirby published the handsome Perspective of Architecture Deduced from the Principles of Dr. Brook Taylor which included as plate 44 House with a Colonnade (drawing; Royal Collection) by the prince, who was closely involved with the publication and paid for the many illustrations.  On his accession as George III in 1761, the King rewarded Kirby and his son William Kirby (1743–1771) by appointing them joint clerks of the works at Kew and Richmond.  The post was no sinecure and young William, a promising artist, went with his wife to study architecture in Italy at the king's expense 1768–9.  On their return William Kirby was given a house at Kew, where he died in 1771.

In 1767 Joshua was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.  Kirby contributed three drawings (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) to Gardens and Buildings at Kew (1763) by Sir William Chambers, who gave Kirby his many orders for works on the royal estates.  President (1768–1771) of the Incorporated Society of Artists, but the king, with Benjamin West and Chambers, planned a royal academy which was formed in December 1768. 

From 1761 he exhibited mainly drawings including St Albans Abbey (1767; department of prints and drawings, British Museum) but the oils Kew Ferry (1767) and Ockham Mill (1769) were attributed by Horace Walpole to the king.  The only known landscape in oil signed by Kirby, dated 1761, is at Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, Suffolk.

Kirby died peacefully at Kew Green on 20 June 1774, and buried in Kew chapel (now St Anne's, Kew).  He had owned many works by Gainsborough (which appeared in the Trimmer sale, Christies, 17 March 1860), who had painted Kirby with his wife (c.1750; National Portrait Gallery, London) and separately in two further portraits (V&A; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).  Such was Gainsborough's confidence in his ‘old friend pudging Josh’ that he was buried alongside him at St Anne's, Kew.

Information provided by Tony Copsey, author and researcher of artist in Suffolk County, England.

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