Robert White (Biographical details)

Robert White (printmaker; British; Male; 1645 - 1703)

Also known as

White, Robert

Address

In Bloomsbury Market (1682)

Biography

Engraver, foremost pupil of Loggan, and inherited his position as the leading line-engraver for the print trade. His earliest print was made in 1666, and his last in 1702. His output was huge, and has never been fully catalogued. Vertue's list, reproduced by Walpole, has several hundred plates. Vertue got some information from White's son, George: 'Robert White ingraver did not only learn of Mr Loggan but from his infancy had an inclination to drawing & made essays in engraveing and etching before he knew Loggan. He drew many buildings for Loggan & engrav'd, besides he imploy'd much of his time in drawing from the life black led upon vellum' (I 131).
Many of these portrait drawings survive: thirteen are in the British Museum, and more are in the Bute Granger in the Huntington Library, having been acquired by Bull from the large group in the sale of the collection of James West in 1773 (on this see Caulfield, 'Calcographiana', p.62). Among them is the self-portrait made when he was sixteen which Vertue saw and established the date of his birth (Bute XVI 89). Another nine were sold at Sotheby's London 14 July 2010 (42). Vertue praised White's engravings as warmly as his drawings. On his death at the age of 58 in November 1703, he wrote: 'He ought to be remembered as a singular artist in his way, having so vast a genius in drawing and engraving a face, and make the picture so like the original ... that perhaps he has not left his equal in Europe behind him' (IV 108). It was White's ability to capture a likeness that so impressed Vertue, and he tried to analyse how he achieved this in 1737 (see IV 121). An extravagant encomium by John Dunton, a bookseller for whom White often worked, is in his autobiographical 'Life and errors', 1705, p.346.
White followed Loggan in the types of print he made: mainly portraits (usually from his own drawings), but also frontispieces, bookplates (he made one for Pepys), almanacs, architecture and the occasional semi-popular piece to catch public interest in a topical story. Most of the portraits are frontispieces for books, and were made on commission from publishers: this explains the number of heads of divines in his output. A small number he published himself at his house in Bloomsbury Market, and these could be large and splendid. He is said to have charged about £4 for a small plate, but up to £30 for a large one (Vertue I 33). Vertue says he died poor, but it is difficult to understand how this could have happened as he was obviously very successful.
Like other line-engravers, White's business must have been affected by the rise of mezzotint, and for a brief period in c.1680-3 he took up mezzotint publishing himself. Chaloner Smith lists nine such plates, one of which (the Countess of Arundel) White scraped himself. His son George became a prominent mezzotinter, and after Robert's death advertised in the London Gazette for 18 November 1703 that he 'sells the prints done by R.White'. But he soon sold the plates to John King at the Globe in the Poultry (Vertue VI 183). The well-known writing engraver John Sturt (1658-1730) was apprenticed to White in 1674.

Bibliography

ECM (for drawings)
Chaloner Smith (9 mezzotints published by him)
C.F. Bell and Rachel Poole, 'English Seventeenth-Century Portrait Drawings in Oxford Collections, Part II', "14th Volume of the Walpole Society", 1925-1926.
Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Stuart Britain' p.203