Richard Dighton (1796-1880) Richard Dighton played a significant role in British portraiture of the nineteenth century, not only in continuing the tradition of his father, but also in effecting a transition between painting and photography, especially in the provincial centres of Cheltenham and Worcester. Richard Dighton was born at 12 Charing Cross, London, on 19 June 1796, the youngest son of the artist, Robert Dighton, and Catherine Caroline Bertles. He probably served an apprenticeship in his father’s studio at Charing Cross and then, from 1810, at 4 Spring Gardens.
When his father died in 1814, his elder brothers were both in France with the army, so Dighton took on the family business, and adopted his father’s style. His earliest caricature prints are of academics of Oxford, Cambridge and Eton. However, he soon specialised in London personalities, including actors.
Marrying his first wife, Mary, in about 1818, Dighton lived in Pimlico and then in Chelsea in the 1820s, and during that decade fathered his three eldest children: Richard (1823-1891), who would also become an artist, Mary (born 1826) and Martha (born 1828).
In 1824, Dighton sold his stock of plates to Thomas McLean of 16 Haymarket, who reissued some of them with his own imprint. He then concentrated on watercolour portraits, gradually purging his style of the element of caricature.
In 1828, the Dightons left London for Cheltenham, and settled at 85 Winchombe Street.
His choice ‘was likely to have been influenced by the potential customers at the increasingly popular spa town’ (Padbury 2007, page 68). In the November, Dighton advertised his services as a portrait painter in the Cheltenham Journal.
In 1829, the Dightons moved to Worcester, and settled at 2 Edgar Street. Two years later, his wife, Mary, gave birth to Joshua (1831-1908), who also became an artist, and Rachel (born 1831). While there, Dighton began to paint a series of at least 24 portraits of officers of the Worcester Yeomanry Cavalry. He continued the series upon returning to Cheltenham in 1832. Mary gave birth to four further children in Cheltenham during the 1830s: Sarah (1832), Elizabeth (1834), John (1835) and Truth (1839). By 1834, the family was living at 67 St George’s Place, just two doors away from the premises of George Rowe, the lithographer and artist, who had established Cheltenham’s first lithographic press, and produced some of Dighton’s lithographs.
From about 1840, Dighton seems to have shared his time between Cheltenham, Worcester and London. London addresses included 6 St Michael’s Terrace, Pimlico, for various years between 1838 and 1860, and 5 Hugh Street, West Eccleston Square, during 1851-52. He also lived at 13 Severn Terrace, Worcester, during the years 1845 to 1847.
While Dighton continued to produce watercolour portraits until 1857, it seems that he turned to photography, assisted by – and then perhaps assisting – his sons Richard and Joshua. Between 1864 and 1876, the Dightons lived and worked, as artists and photographers, at Weston Villa, 433 High Street, Cheltenham. Richard junior continued at this address.
Dighton’s final address, from 1876, was 35 Elm Grove, Hammersmith. He died there on 13 April 1880 of inflammation of the kidneys (Bright’s disease) and an enlarged prostate gland. A second wife, Elizabeth, survived him.
His work is represented in the Royal Collection, and numerous public collections, including the British Museum; and the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford) and Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum.
Further reading: Timothy Clayton, ‘Dighton, Robert (1751-1814)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 16, pages 175-179 David Padbury, A View of Dighton’s. The Dighton family, their times, caricatures and portraits, London: The Cartoon Museum, 2007 Dennis Rose, ‘Dighton’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 8, page 886 Dennis Rose, Life, Times and Recorded Works of Robert Dighton (1752-1814). Actor, Artist and Printseller and Three of His Artist Sons, Tisbury; Element Books, 1981