- Also known as
primary name: Beckett, Isaac
- individual; printmaker; publisher/printer; British; Male
- Life dates
- Golden Head in the Old Bailey
under the stairs on the north side of the Royal Exchange (possibly in conjunction with the above)
- Mezzotinter, master of John Smith. Of the Englishmen who exploited the new medium of mezzotint when the secret finally became common knowledge at the beginning of the 1680s, it was Isaac Beckett who lifted himself commercially and in quality above his chief rivals, William Faithorne the younger and Robert Williams. Vertue says he was born in Kent, and was about 30 in 1683 (III 83). This places his birth around 1653.
The key information about his career was given to Vertue by Luttrell: 'Isaac Beckett then a prentice to a callicoe printer & tillet [a kind of cloth] painter then in Morefields ... being acquainted with Mr Luttrel, usd to come to see him often at his chambers & see his method then of proceeding in mezzotint, of which, haveing a little drawing, gave him an itch to be doing something that way. It chancd he got a maid with child, for which he absented himself sometime till it was made up, during which time, knowing not what to do, Floyd [Lloyd] imployed him in scraping of plates for him and showd him the secret of laying grounds with the chisel upon certain conditions [of secrecy] ... Beckett got this woman with child again, brought him into fresh trouble. Mr Luttrell still was made use of to help him out; this brought them to be intimate. At length Beckett marrys a woman with a round sum of money (about 500 pounds), then he sate up for himself. Mr Luttrell has done many heads for him being very quick & drew better, so that Beckett usd after to finish & polish them up' (I 42-3).
So Beckett began his adventurous career in the back room grounding and scraping plates for others; most of this work would have been published without giving his name. It was only his marriage that gave him the capital to set up as a publisher. This took place to Grace Compton in September 1684 (see Burl. Mag. 1998, p.97, n.19). An analysis of the 102 plates by him catalogued by Chaloner Smith shows that twelve were published by Cooper, five by Browne, and almost all the rest by Beckett himself, sometimes giving his address at the Golden Head in the Old Bailey. Besides the portraits, he issued numerous small subject plates that have not yet been studied. He worked after a large number of painters, but two in particular: Wissing and Kneller. The plates after Wissing were mostly made for Edward Cooper, with whom Wissing came to some arrangement. A similar deal was made between Kneller and Beckett, and a quarter of Beckett's plates are after Kneller. Beckett published portraits by other mezzotinters, including John Smith. He also etched the illustrations for 'London's Triumph or the Goldsmiths' Jubilee performed October XXIX 1687' with a text by M.Taubman; an entry in the Goldsmiths' accounts for that year shows that he was paid £6 for the four plates.
Beckett's plates are never dated, but the earliest seems to belong to 1681. He died in May 1688. On 8 July that year his widow put an announcement in the London Gazette that she was continuing his trade at the Golden Head, 'where all persons may be furnished with all the newest and best sorts of mezotinto printing, likewise all other things appertaining to the painting them on glass', and four of Smith's plates of 1688 were published by her. On 4 October 1688 Grace Beckett remarried Robert Howard, a cordwainer (see Burl. Mag. 1998, p.97, n.19), and in 1689 she sold the business to John Savage, who continued the shop at the same address.
Most of Beckett's plates were subsequently acquired and re-issued (usually after considerable reworking) by Edward Cooper or John Smith. Smith, Beckett's pupil, made a memorial portrait of him in 1689 (CS 17), which was published by William Beckett (presumably a relative) 'at the back side of the Royal Exchange'. William was one of the publishers of Tijou's ironwork designs in 1693, and was still working at the same address in 1704 (see 'London Gazette', 10 January 1704).
- Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Stuart Britain' 1998, p.234