Edward Poynter

Edward Poynter

Sir Edward John Poynter, 1st Baronet, GCVO, PRA, was an English artist, designer, and craftsperson who presided over the Royal Academy from 20 March 1836 to 26 July 1919.


Ambrose Poynter, an architect, was the father of Poynter. Although his parents changed soon after his birth and moved to Britain, he was born in Paris, France. He joined Brighton College and Ipswich School for his education, but he left out because of health problems and spent the winters in Madeira and Rome. He met Frederick Leighton in Rome in 1853 and deeply touched the 17-year-old Poynter. Before moving to Paris to study in the workshop of the formalist painter Charles Gleyre, where James McNeill Whistler and George du Maurier were other students, he returned to England. He attended Leigh's Academy in Newman Street and the Royal Academy Schools.

Three children were born to Poynter and Agnes MacDonald after their marriage in 1866. Agnes was the daughter of the Rev. G. B. MacDonald of Wolverhampton. Her sister Alice was the mother of author Rudyard Kipling, her sister Louisa was the mother of three-time British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and her sister Georgiana married the artist Edward Burne-Jones.

In his significant spatial works of art, such as Israel in Egypt (1867; Guildhall Art Gallery, London), St. George for England (1869), a mosaic of St. George and the Dragon for the Main Lobby of the Palace of Westminster, and possibly "The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon," Oynter rose to prominence (1884-90; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney).

In 1869, he was appointed as a Royal Academy associate.

Poynter had several posts in government, including director of the National Gallery from 1894 to 1904 and the first Slade Professor at University College London from 1871 to 1875. (overseeing the opening of the Tate Gallery). In 1876, he gained full Royal Academician rank.

After Sir John Millais passed away in 1896, Poynter was selected to lead the Academy.

In addition to an academic doctorate from Cambridge University in 1898, he also got a knighted that year.

His baronetcy was declared in the 1902 Commissioning Honours list, which was issued on June 26, 1902, in honor of King Edward VII's coronation. On July 24, 1902, he was made a baronet of Albert gate, in the town of Westminster, in the county of London.

He is a Freemasonry based on the themes in his paintings (King Solomon and King Solomon's Temple) and his connections to Kipling.

Masonic Lodges worldwide have prints of his picture, The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon.

In November and December 1995, Brighton College, Poynter's alma mater, presented a show of Poynter's artworks and sketches titled "Life at Arms Length" in its Burstow Gallery.


His large historical paintings like Israel in Egypt (1867; Guildhall Art Gallery, London) and St. George for England (1869), a mosaic for the National capital Lobby of the Palace of Westminster that highlights St. George and the Dragon, as well as—possibly—The meet of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon—were what made him best known (1884–90; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney). In 1869, he was appointed as a Royal Academy associate.

Poynter held several positions within the government: from 1871 to 1875, he functioned as the first Slade Professor at University College London; from 1875 to 1881, he functioned as the school's head; and from 1894 to 1904, he served the National Gallery's director (overseeing the opening of the Tate Gallery). In 1876, he acquired full Royal Academician status. After Sir John Millais passed away in 1896, Poynter was chosen to lead the Academy.  In conjunction with an honorary degree from Cambridge University in 1898, he subsequently got a knighthood that year. In the list of ceremonies for King Edward VII's (later postponed) inauguration that was revealed on June 26, 1902, it was said that he would get a baronetcy. On July 24, 1902, he was made a baronet of Albert Gate in Westminster, in the county of London.


In 1861, Poynter first presented Orientalist artwork at the Royal Academy. To research mosaics for a project, he went to Venice in 1868. In 1869, he was enrolled in the Royal Academy. As a result, he produced designs for the St. George mosaic in the British houses of parliament and the frieze of the Royal Albert Hall both of which were constructed in the same year. In 1871, Poynter was selected to serve as the first Slade professor at University College, London. Ten Lectures on Art, a compendium of his lectures, was released in 1879. Poynter made various revisions after first being deeply impacted by French artistic pedagogy, notably the value of sketching, and made sure that Alphonse Legros, a French artist, would replace him when he left in 1875. (1837-1911). Poynter received the director and head positions at the National Art Training School in South Kensington the following year. Poynter released a variety of art history textbooks as part of its continuing revolutionary education strategy. He also completed numerous huge national painting works, for which he is most recognized during this time. These included The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon (1890, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney) and His Visit to Aesculapius (1880, Tate Gallery). He followed Frederic William Burton as curator of the National Gallery in London in 1894, winning the post over Charles Fairfax Murray and Charles L. Eastlake.

The Vision of St. Eustace by Pisanello, Agony in the Garden by Mantegna, Portrait of a Man by Titian, the paintings of Jacob Trip and his wife by Mondrian, as well as pieces by Lorenzo Monaco, Zurbaran, and Goya, among the purchases by Poynter during his tenure as the head. In contrast to his successor, Poynter worked with the Board of Trustees to make his investments. He succeeded John Everett Millais as president of the Royal Academy after being knighted in 1896. (1829-1896). In 1897, Poynter played a crucial role in placing items in the National Gallery of British Art (later the Tate Gallery). He left the National Gallery in 1905 (Charles Holroyd took over), but he continued to function as director of the Academy until 1918. Poynter sold his extensive collection of master's drawings in 1918 because of his declining health. He died recently at his Kensington home and studio and was put to rest in St. Paul's Cathedral in that city. Charles F. Bell, the director of the Ashmolean Museum, was his nephew.

Although largely associated with academia as an artist, Poynter contributed significantly to art history. In 1899, he released the collection's first thorough illustrated catalog at the National Gallery. He received a lot of artistic condemnation from modernists for being the stilted "Victorian Olympian." Still, his efforts in art education and art-historical survey texts established a precedent for the upcoming generation. Being a global artist, he did not hesitate to depict humans in the nude or create works that highlighted their sensuous qualities, even when this was unfashionable.

Selected Works

Three volumes, The National Gallery. Ten Lectures on Art, Cassell, 1899–1900, London/New York. The National Gallery of British Art (Millbank) Illustrated Catalogue, London: Chapman & Hall, 1879. Illustrated Text-books of Art Education (series:) London/New York: Cassell & Co., 1902. and Italian and Orchestral Painting by Percy R. Head. All Buxton, Henry Wilmot, and London: S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1880 Dutch, Flemish, and German paintings. Smith, Thomas Roger; London: S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1881. Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles. Paintings series auction, London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1880. Wilkinson & Hodge, Sotheby's. Catalog of Sir Edward J. Poynter's Extraordinary Collections of Old Master Paintings. Dryden Press, 1918, London


Sir Edward John Poynter (1836–1919), by Alison Inglis Connor, P. "'Wedding Antiquity to Art': Poynter's Israel in Egypt," in Macready, Sarah, and Thompson, F. H., eds. Influences in Victorian Architecture and Art Oxford Dictionary of National Life. Sir Edward Poynter and the Earl of Wharncliffe's Billiard Room, London: Society of Antiquaries, 1985, pp. 112–20; Alison Inglis. Poynter and Leighton as Aestheticians: the Ten Lectures and Addresses, Apollo 126 (1987): 249–55; Joseph Kestner Smith, Alison; Journal of Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Studies 2 no. 1 (1989); 108–20. Sexuality, Virtue, and Art in the Victorian Nude. Manchester University Press/St. Martin's Press, Manchester/New York, 1996; M. Liversidge and C. Edwards, editors British artists and Rome in the 19th century: an imagined Rome. In the book After the Pre-Raphaelites: Art and Aestheticism in Victorian England, edited by Elizabeth Prettejohn, C. Arscott, "Poynter and the Arty," released by Merrell Holberton in London in 1996. Rutgers University Press, 1999, New Brunswick, NJ, pp. 135–51; Alison Smith, ed., Revealed: the Victorian Nude. Julian Freeman; London: Tate Publishing, 2001. Life at a Distance: Sir Edward Poynter, 1836–1919, and 1849–1850 student at Brighton College. Brighton College, 1995; Brighton, UK. [depicted] A novel entitled Trilby Harper & Brothers, New York, 1894 [obituaries:] "Sir E. Poynter passed away. A fantastic Victorian" Page 16 of The Times (London), July 28, 1919.

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