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was an English painter and illustrator. The son of one of Robert Adam’s
assistants, Hamilton was sent to Rome to be trained as an architectural
draughtsman. He studied under Antonio Zucchi (who was later Adam’s
chief decorative painter), possibly in Rome from 1766 and in London from
1768. At the Royal Academy Schools from 1769, Hamilton developed into a
figure painter and exhibited portraits and subject pictures at the
Royal Academy from 1774 to 1801. He became ARA in 1784 and RA in 1789.
Hamilton’s most interesting work pertains to the theatre,
particularly Shakespearean. His most distinguished large pictures are
the 23 he painted for John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, including A Scene from ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ (Act 4, scene i; London, Drury Lane Theat.). Also in the 1790s he contributed illustrations to Bowyer’s History of England and Thomas Macklin’s Bible and British Poets.
Nevertheless, his pleasantly plump and youthful figures were better
suited to the less pretentious format of book illustration than that of
history painting. His attractive romantic scenes appear in many editions
of 18th-century poets as well as in John Bell’s second editions of Shakespeare (1786–8) and The British Theatre (1791–7).
Hamilton was capable of being an accomplished draughtsman in a
variety of styles; his album of drawings (London, Victoria & Albert
Museum) includes work reminiscent of Henry Fuseli and Angelica Kauffman
as well as more distinctive compositions nervously constructed with
repeated, scratchy strokes of the pen. His portraits are mostly
theatrical and include many of Sarah Siddons; they are curiously
stilted, although the John Philip Kemble as Richard III
(exhibited at the Royal Academy 1788; private collection, see G. Ashton:
‘Paintings in the Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection’, Apollo,
cxiv (1981), p. 88) is a fine dramatic pastiche of Hogarth’s portrait
of David Garrick in the same role (1745; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery).
Hamilton’s work is represented in the following collections:
National Portrait Gallery, London; Tate Gallery, London; Victoria &
Albert Museum, London; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; Royal Academy of
Arts Collection, London; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Museum of
Fine Arts, Boston; Manchester City Art Gallery; Fine Arts Museums of
San Francisco; Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan, amongst others.
Sphinx Fine Art
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