Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1733-1794) A range of youthful experiences – in which he engaged with the arts and sciences, in Switzerland and France – made Samuel Hieronymus Grimm well equipped for his career in England as a draughtsman and illustrator. There he responded with a combination of precision and lyricism to the demands of his patrons: antiquaries, topographers and natural historians, who sought to record ‘everything curious’. Samuel Hieronymus Grimm was baptised at Burgdorf, in the canton of Bern, Switzerland, on 18 January 1733. He was the youngest child of a notary, Johann Jakob Grimm, and nephew of the painter, Johann Grimm. Following the death of his father in 1749, he lived with a maternal uncle and, despite his artistic leanings, was set to assist a physician, J G Zimmerman. Under the influence of the scientist and poet, Albrecht von Haller, he began to write his own poetry, publishing two volumes, in 1758 and 1762 (the second with an introduction by Haller).
During the 1750s, Grimm studied under the artist Johann Ludwig Aberli, in Bern, and then began to establish himself as a topographical painter.
Though he initially worked more in oil than watercolour, it is his tinted drawings that indicated his future direction. Travelling with Alberli in the Bernese Oberland, in 1758, he produced views of glaciers that were used to illustrate G S Gruner’s Die Eisgebirge der Schweizerlandes (1760). During the years 1764-75, he produced further illustrations, mainly for books issued by the Bern publisher Beat Ludwig Walthard.
In or soon after 1765, Grimm moved to Paris, where he entered the circle of the engraver and publisher, Johann Georg Wille. He made sketching tours in the vicinity of Paris in the company of other artists, and visited Normandy with Philipp Hackert and Nicolas Pérignon.
In February 1768, Grimm settled in Covent Garden, London. Staying initially with Mrs Susannah Sledge, the printseller, in Henrietta Street, he remained in the area for the rest of his life. Within months of his arrival, he exhibited at the Society of Artists. In the following year, he showed four works at the first exhibition of the newly formed Royal Academy of Arts, and then regularly (continuously until 1781, and then in 1784-84 and 1793). He also exhibited at the Free Society of Artists (until 1793). Elected to the Society of Arts in November 1773, he sat on its committee of polite arts until 1777.
While continuing to produce illustrations for Swiss publishers, Grimm first made a name in London with social caricatures (including some published by Carington Bowles of St Paul’s Church Yard). By 1773, he was receiving commissions for antiquarian, architectural and landscape watercolours, including prefatory illustrations to the first volume of Francis Grose’s Antiquities of England and Wales.
In 1773, Grimm recorded the Maundy Ceremony for Sir Richard Kaye, the king’s sub-almoner, who would become his chief patron, providing him with work for the remainder of his life. As Kaye rose through the ecclesiastical hierarchy, eventually becoming Dean of Lincoln, he moved about the country, and Grimm would stay and travel with him. (Kaye’s collection in the British Library comprises about 2500 items by Grimm.)
During the late 1770s, the number and range of commissions that Grimm received increased further. In 1776, he spent a month with Gilbert White, working on illustrations to his Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789). In the following year, he travelled through Wales with the topographer, Henry Penruddocke Wyndham, in order to provide illustrations for his Tour through Monmouthshire and Wales (1781). At the time of the tour, Wyndham had recently been elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and that learned society would also employ Grimm on four occasions, between 1779 and 1791, to record a number of Tudor paintings.
Between 1780 and 1791, though excluding 1786, Grimm spent each fortnight from Whitsun working for Sir William Burrell, the Sussex antiquary. (The 900 studies from nature that he produced for him are now in the British Library.) In 1781 and 1785, he also worked for Cornelius Heathcote Rodes of Barlborough Hall, Derbyshire.
Grimm died ‘of a mortification in his bowels’ on 14 April 1794, at the house of William Wellings, engraver, in Tavistock Street, St Paul’s, Covent Garden. Never having married, he left much of his money to a niece in Switzerland. His will also named three ‘worthy friends and employers’: Rodes, Burrell and Kaye.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Library, the British Museum, The Courtauld Gallery, Tate and the V&A; and The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge) and Tyne & Wear Museums.