William Edmund Pars, ARA (1742-1782) William Pars is best remembered as a travelling draughtsman, responsible for some important antiquarian studies and pioneering topographical views.
William Pars was born in London on 28 February 1742, the son of a metal chaser, probably of Dutch origin. He studied at the drawing school at 101 The Strand, run by William Shipley (who had founded the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts in 1754), then in the Duke of Richmond’s sculpture gallery, Whitehall, and at the St Martin’s Lane Academy. He later returned to Shipley’s to assist his brother, Henry, who had become its director.
Pars had trained to become a landscape and history painter, but first earned his living as a portrait painter, exhibiting at the Society of Artists (1760), the Free Society of Artists (1761) and the Incorporated Society of Artists.
In 1764, while still only 22, Pars achieved a turn in his career. Not only did he win a premium from the Society of Arts for his (untraced) painting Caractacus before the Emperor Claudius (one of several such prizes in his career). He was also selected by the Society of Dilettanti to accompany Richard Chandler, the antiquary, and Nicholas Revett, the architect, on an archaeological expedition to Asia Minor and Greece (1764–66).
His views of Classical monuments in Asia Minor were engraved and published in Ionian Antiquities (in parts from 1769).
Some of those made in Greece were later included in the second and third volumes of Stuart and Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens (1789 and 1794), while others were engraved by William Byrne for the Dilettanti. The Greek drawings included groundbreaking studies of the Parthenon. In 1769, Pars exhibited seven of the Greek subjects at the Royal Academy (now in the British Museum), which led to his election as an associate of the RA.
In 1769, Pars accompanied his patron, Henry Temple, 2nd Viscount Palmerston, on a tour through Switzerland down into Italy. In the following year, he exhibited eight of the resulting works at the Royal Academy, works which Laurence Binyon called ‘the earliest revelation of the high Alps to the untravelled English’ (1933), and which prefigure views by J R Cozens and Francis Towne. He travelled again with Lord Palmerston, to Ireland and the Lake District (1771), and was employed by Horace Walpole to make views of Strawberry Hill.
In 1774, the Dilettanti awarded Pars an income for three years so that he could continue his studies in Rome. In the following year, he set out with the wife of the miniaturist John Smart (though she died in 1778). On arrival, he joined Thomas Jones and his friends, and worked alongside them in Rome and its surroundings, and in Naples. Though he sent works back to London, to patrons and for exhibitions, he remained in Rome for the remainder of his life. He died in October 1782 from pneumonia having contracted pleurisy following a trip to Tivoli, during which he had drawn standing in the Grand Cascade in the Grotto of Neptune.
His work is represented in the Government Art Collection and numerous public collections, including the British Museum, The Courtauld Gallery, Tate and the V&A; the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge) and Leeds Art Gallery; Aberdeen Art Gallery; and the National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin).