Anthony Devis (1729-1816) Anthony Devis was a painter and draughtsman of charming landscapes inspired by Dutch and Italianate models. As a draughtsman, he produced large finished works in crayon and wash, and – as here – fresh studies in pen and ink enlivened with touches of colour. Anthony Devis was born in Preston, Lancashire on 18 March 1729, to the councillor, Anthony Devis, and his second wife Anne. The portrait painter, Arthur Devis, was his older half-brother.
While his training remains a mystery, Devis was certainly working as a painter in London by 1742, when he was still only thirteen. Returning for a time to Preston, he was back in London by 1762, and living in Gloucester Street with his brother John, a silversmith and watchmaker; a decade later he had moved to Bedford Row. He specialised in topographical paintings, which he produced in both oil and watercolour, and exhibited – most notably – at the Free Society of Artists (1761 and 1763) and the Royal Academy of Arts (1772 and 1781). A Cool Morning, exhibited at the Free Society in 1763, was awarded ‘The Third Premium for Landscape Painting’.
He also worked as a picture restorer and a teacher.
In the early 1770s, Josiah Wedgwood commissioned Devis, among others, to produce numerous views of ‘the ruins, country-houses, parks, gardens and picturesque landscapes of Great Britain’. These were intended to decorate the great creamware dinner service – known as the Frog Service – ordered by Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. This project may have instigated his extensive travels across Britain, and he subsequently undertook a number of commissions from native landowners. The completed service certainly includes views by Devis of Enville, Staffordshire and Bradgate, Leicestershire.
In 1780, Devis moved to Albury House in the village of Albury, near Guildford, in Surrey. Though there is no evidence of his exhibiting later than 1781, he did continue to work.
There is no record that Devis travelled abroad, and his drawings of foreign views are probably inspired by the work of others. Still, it is possible that Devis accompanied William Assheton of Cuerdale Hall, Lancashire, on his tour of Italy in 1783-84 – as the trees in a number of Assheton’s Italian drawings are very like those by Devis. Indeed, Devis may have acted as Assheton’s drawing master. Devis died a bachelor at Albury on 26 April 1816. However, two of his nephews – Anthony Thomas Devis and Robert Marris – continued to produce work in a similar vein.
His work is represented in the Government Art Collection; and numerous public collections, including the British Museum, Tate and the V&A; Abbot Hall Art Gallery (Kendal), The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), the Harris Museum and Art Gallery (Preston), Tyne & Wear Museums and The Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester); National Museum Wales (Cardiff); and Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums.