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The Phantom [Engaver John] Henry Robinson

February 15, 2012

The Phantom Henry Robinson



     Within the academic art world – and in many published reference books and dictionary lists of known artists and engravers etc., you’ll find they have long and unwittingly helped perpetuate the phantom ‘Henry Robinson’, – for it’s been long-believed and taken as a matter of fact, that the prolific portrait engraver Henry Robinson active dates fl1827-1872, is not the same person as that of the “more famous” artist, John Henry Robinson [1796-1871].  It’s been quite difficult to unravel what’s been established and printed in many books or other forms of media in general, – though it’s quite understandable as to why no one has really questioned it before, – or have they? – Well; “Yes”, – as it certainly has been questioned quite a few times over the decades, – an whole array of publications have covered this subject, – some identify Henry Robinson with John Henry Robinson, – though they all seem to come to the same kind of conclusion; including author Basil Hunnisett, who argue; “…that as several publications include stylistically different plates signed by ‘H. Robinson’ and ‘J. H. Robinson’, they are clearly separate artists…” – Source: A Dictionary of British Steel Engravers, p. 108, by B. Hunnisett. 

     Many establishments such as the V&A, R&A and the NPG, have long listed and archived the works of this one man, as ‘two’ separate artists, – in which it is mainly due to the opinions of experts such as Basil Hunnisett. 

    Without further substantiation, this incorrect information would have probably remained the same, – it could be argued that the presently incorrect biographical accounts of this artist would have been expedited as being set in stone, due to galleries such as the NPG, whom have been in the process of cataloguing their prints for many years based on Basil Hunnisett’s division of the work into ‘two’.  It’s been confirmed that since this new information has come to light, the NPG will follow the practice of attributing all the works to John Henry Robinson in the future will commence re-cataloguing these prints as of the 24th November 2011.  Though there may be a short delay before the changes are reflected on the Gallery’s website. 

What seems to have occurred, is that past biographers and archivists had erroneously mistaken; Henry Peach Robinson b.1830-d.1901, with that of; [John] “Henry Robinson” [fl1827 – 1872], whose birth and death dates are 1796-1871.  The following text explains in more detail as to what probably had occurred during the course of these two-three-men’s histories and lives;

     The objective of the following researched information, alongside the evidence provided within the original portfolio of John Henry Robinson, is to help provide this collection with as correct a provenance as one could hope to achieve, – that reveals J.H. Robinson’s own handwriting and signatures as; ‘HR’ – Henry Robinson, – on many of his works, – and John Robinson, on others, – and to prove these ‘two’ men are the same ‘one man’. By reinvestigating the provenance and datelining the history of the known storyline that has been told by the families of those whom were directly related to those who had eventually acquired this collection; – that alongside with this evidence, and then comparing the “two” engravers works, – and what is currently accredited to and in the public domain from these ‘two’ separate artists, – McCann knew for certain they were most definitely the very same person, and not; “…they are clearly separate artists…” as quoted by B. Hunnisett and others.  Though he couldn’t quite figure it out how this could possibly be, as according to the just quoted comment and reference books on the biographies of these two men; – it was argued they were most certainly different people, so he wasn’t sure how this could even be feasible.  However, and only until recently, further coincidently research by McCann, conveniently revealed what has indeed been directly and incorrectly recorded and listed; that ‘Henry Robinson [fl1827-1872], has been mistaken as being the same person as that of Henry Peach Robinson [1830-1901].

     The current and previous owner of this portfolio, have over a period of time dealt various works of [John] Henry Robinson, and Edward W. Robinson; whose own working proofs are also covered in pencil writing and painted in watercolours, such as various plates of Butterflies and Beetles, – are also part of this collection. – Some paintings, drawings and sketches are signed; “John Henry Robinson”.  Though to date, the main section of their working-proofs; artist-proofs and proofs before letters etc. have never yet been split-up and presently still all together.  As it is here you can see many forms of communication either between the artist’s, engravers and printers.  [John] Henry Robinson has pencil written various instructions, – and even made and shaded-in whole sections of work in-progress – proofs-before-proofs and letters etc.  It was by having this added advantage, alongside side the known about provenance, – and taking a closer examination of these works, that convinced McCann, they must be the same person and therefore artist.

     It’s recorded that “Henry Robinson’s active date ends fl1872, and “John” died 21st October 1871, – hence no more works from either of these engravers after these dates.  

Edward William Robinson

     Before we continue it’s best to understand and as mentioned, that John Henry Robinson had either a brother or nephew, and likely the latter due to the age differences of 30 years, though some people did still give birth when fairly late in life, so the possibility remains he was his brother.  Though there is still a problem, – as it seems that what has been recorded as his birth place of ‘Heddon’, [though it’s probably Hedon, sometimes spelt Heydon] is incorrect, so what is recorded in the archives and what the England Census reveals about him is very little, so it has been very difficult to pin point him down as a child, – though we are able to trace him and see what his movements were in his older life, as the 1851 England Census shows him at the age of 27 living in London, and not far from J.H. Robinson, his uncle or older brother, and whom he worked with.  Edward William Robinson, [1824-1883] – and the active dates recorded are; fl1835–77.  Though like Henry, he too may have had a ‘name change’, as it seems he was born Edward Robinson, and may have added the William later on and when became an artist. – Further on explains a little more; – yet it seems Edward, at the right age, and probably like that of his elder brother or nephew, at 18 years old joined John Henry Robinson’s established business in London, as he too became a skilled engraver and listed artist, – and as said, – some of his work came in the same portfolio alongside the works by J. H. Robinson’s.  It was after the death of John Henry Robinson, he seemed to have left behind engraving, – as photography was fast replacing the craft, and moved onto watercolours and other mediums instead.  Today Edward’s, as does J. H. Robinson’s work, still comes up for auction, and the following one sold from this collection is of Hampstead Heath, London.  


     One of his watercolours recently sold at Bonhams Auctioneers in April 2011 listed as Edward W. Robinson – ‘Lago D’orta, North Italy’Original (1873).  Edward W. Robinson (British School,1824-1883) – Signed ‘E.W. Robinson 1873.4’ and inscribed with title lower left; bears inscription old torn label verso watercolour 28 x 58cm (11 x 22 13/16in);


     Also in the portfolio there are the butterflies he painted and the beetles, dragonfly’s and other insects engraved and drew; – which appeared in the following publications, – some of the plates have been coloured with watercolours. – In the Dictionary of Watercolour Artists Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine 14 (1877): 118–19.  It contains 16 intricate single-sided plates, each containing 6 varieties of beetle. [See the bibliography for full references to sources], also Correspondence, volume(s): 10 & 11, it reads; “London -based entomological artist, steel engraver and landscape painter. Exhibited -1859–76. Worked in Britain, France, Switzerland and Northern Italy.  Illustrated the Entomologists Annual, 1857–74 and many of the papers in the Transactions of the Entomological Society of London, the Journal of the Linnean Society, the Journal of Entomology, and the Annals and Magazine of Natural History. Illustrated some of the plates for Henry Walter Bates’ – The naturalist on the River Amazons (1863).”  Sources: Dictionary of watercolour artists Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine 14 (1877): 118–19

Henry Robinson & Henry Peach Robinson

      Relatively little is known of the prolific portrait engraver Henry Robinson – active date’s – fl1827-1872. The NPG archives among many others state; Artist associated with 101 portraits.  An early advocate of Pictorialist photography and a founder of the Linked Ring, Robinson produced photographic work that evolved from fine, standard portraits to composite prints, for which he is best known, to picturesque landscapes. Born in Shropshire, Robinson studied drawing and painting while employed in a bookshop in Leamington Spa. He opened a photographic portrait studio in Leamington in 1857, and soon had a successful business producing portraits. Robinson’s pictures were widely exhibited and he won awards for his work. His most influential books were Pictorial Effect in Photography (1869) and Picture-Making by Photography (1884). His work is held in major private and public collections.


     Yet it is here in this well known and publicised biography which can be found in many publications that has led to the mixed up with; Henry Peach Robinson [1830-1901], ‘Born in Shropshire‘, Royal Tunbridge Wells, who was an English Pictorialist photographer best known for his pioneering “Linked Ring”, and combination printing – joining multiple negatives to form a single image, the precursor to photomontage and author of Pictorial Effect in Photography (1869) and Picture-Making by Photography (1884).

     The biography is incorrect, – as these just quoted books; Pictorial Effect in Photography (1869) and Picture-Making by Photography (1884), were not written by the Henry Robinson [fl1827-1872], as accredited in this above biography and many more.  As it was Henry Peach Robinson [1830-1901], ‘Born in Shropshire‘ – who wrote these actual books.                                                  

     The Henry Peach Robinson from Shropshire, has obviously been mistaken for “Henry Robinson”, who was actually born; John ‘Henry’ Robinson [1796–1871), from Bolton, Lancashire, whom appears to have preferred using the name ‘Henry’, as opposed to ‘John’, though he also seems to have at times signed some of his work; John Robinson or Henry Robinson.  So even though on many occasions he had used the name ‘John’ before, – and that after all it was his real first name, – he most probably preferred and liked the name; ‘Henry’ that little bit more, – though it could be said perhaps because for professional reasons, as explained further on, is another purpose why he prefer adopting a pseudonym.
Archives of work by the engraver Henry Robinson [active fl1827-1872], show he was very much more prolific than John Henry Robinson, – for example you’ll see in excess of a 100 portraits and works of his at the National Portrait Gallery [NPG], whereas there’s only have 11 works accredited to John Henry Robinson.  Though there are many more of his work in the British Museum, V&A Museum and the Royal Academy. 

John ‘Henry’ Robinson

     John Henry Robinson was born in Bolton, Lancashire 1796, and where he spent his childhood in Staffordshire.  In 1814 at the age of 18, Robinson became apprenticed to the distinguished engraver James Heath, whom also had three sons that all eventually joined this family business.  It very likely Robinson work alongside Charles Heath [1785-1848] the son of James, and who too became a distinguished engraver.  However, after just two years or so, John Henry Robinson left Heath’s company and seemed to set-up his own engraving business. 

     In 1823, John Henry Robinson was engraving for the Artists’ Benevolent Fund of William Mulready’s; The Wolf and the Lamb (1820; British Royal Col.).  In the late 1820s and early 1830s Robinson produced many engravings for periodicals such as; The Keepsake, The Amulet and Forget-me-not.  In 1830 he produced three plates after the illustrations of Thomas Stothard for Samuel Rogers’s Italy (London, 1830).  His work on a larger scale includes the engraving of 1848 of David Wilkie’s Napoleon and Pope Pius VII (1835-6; Dublin, N.G.), of the work of other prominent contemporaries such as Thomas Lawrence and Edwin Landseer, and of that of earlier artists such as van Dyck and Murillo.  [In which some working proofs related Samuel Rogers’ Italy and David Wilkie’s Napoleon and Pope Pius VII, are among this J.H. Robinson collection].

     J.H. Robinson was a major player and campaigned for the full recognition of his profession by the Royal Academy, and was one of nine petitioners of this cause to the House of Commons in 1836, followed up with a petition to the King himself.  In 1856 he became an Associate Engraver of the Royal Academy.  In the following year he was a disappointed runner-up to George Thomas Doo for full membership, for which he had to wait until 1867. 

     Is it because of all this controversy; being ‘black balled’ from the Royal Academy, – as after all it was R.A. opposing what Robinson and the other nine ‘rebels’ were petitioning for. So it’s very possible and plausible that ‘John’ Henry Robinson, thought it was perhaps a good idea for professional reasons and purposes to adopt a nom de plume and sign his works; “Henry” as opposed to “John”, as he also did at times.
In the National Portrait Gallery [NPG], there’s a portrait of Francis Russell Nixon, where it states; “…probably by John Henry Robinson“, published by Joseph Hogarth, after George Richmond, stipple engraving, published 1850. 22 1/4 in. x 14 3/4 in. [564 mm x 374 mm] paper size. Reference Collection – NPG D38974 – See link for image of portrait of Nixon;  


Within the portfolio of the John Henry Robinson collection, there’s what appears to be the same as mentioned above; the original pencil drawing of this ‘same’ portrait of Francis Russell Nixon.  On the verso, it is written in pencil; “To be well Damped, not to let run off the plate” – signed; ‘HR’, which is [John] Henry Robinson’s monogram, in which he’s also signed many others like this.

     And another thing to consider; – what is Henry Robinson, if he isn’t “John”, – doing with this same portrait that’s been accredited to “John” Henry Robinson for nay on 160 years, in this same portfolio and collection, and signed; “HR”?

     When the evidence is in front of you like this, it makes sense, – and you can see why the errors have occurred – which is mainly due to the confusion between the listed biographies of Henry Peach Robinson, with that [John] ‘Henry’ Robinson.  

     Henry Peach Robinson, was obviously known by ‘all’, as being plain old ‘Henry Robinson’, and that he too made a name for himself in his field of ‘portrait photography’, – as was the “Robinson’s” – known for their portrait engraving, – that led on to the confusion between Henry Peach Robinson and [John] Henry Robinson.   As coincidently, at the same time Henry Peach Robinson was practicing with daguerreotype photographs, so was [John] Henry Robinson, as also within the portfolio and collection of J.H. Robinson’s, there too are some of these daguerreotype photographs, as they were used by engravers to obtain a portrait picture of the subject they were engraving.  This new technology, saved both hours in time, and from the client having sit waiting around for hours on end.  Compared to photography, engraving was a slow and laborious process, – and it was after all this process of photography that helped eventually kill off the art of engraving portraits in general.

     Within the collection – on the verso of the original rough drawing by J.H. Robinson; of William Motherwell, along with two accompanying artists proofs of the ‘finished’ print that was to be used in the forthcoming book; The Poetical Works of William Motherwell in Glasgow, 1847, in ink writing it reads; “Henry Robinson, No 4 Sussex Terrace, Camden Town”. Which indicates J.H. Robinson was either living there, or that was his studio address in 1847, it appears to have been written by the publisher David Robertson, as his pencil signature is on the verso where the actual drawing of Motherwell is.  The 1851 England Census show John Henry Robinson’s residence as 311 – St. Mary, Paddington, St. Mary-le-bone, London.  He’s recorded as living there along with his with Edith, and their servants Amelia, Mary, Mary Ann and Sarah. – The 1861 England Census about J H Robinson, shows an entry where his wife and he and their servants, – alongside, what I take to be his friend; Robert W. Mackay and his wife, – they’ve all signed the register as ‘visitors’ to 43 Hamilton Terrace, St Mary, Marylebone.  [It appears Robert W. Mackay was the author of: The traveller’s guide to the River St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, and The Montreal directory for 1843-4, by Robert W.S. Mackay, Montreal: Printed and published by John Lovell, St. Nicholas Street [Montreal, Canada] 1851.  You’ll notice the ‘S’ in this authors name is normally omitted.]  – Which isn’t so clear, – the 1861 England Census seems to show they were at 43 Hamilton Terrace at the time the census was recorded, – though you can’t tell by this documentation, for how long they may have stayed there, with all their servants at hand perhaps it was some while? 

     St. Marylebone Parish (ended up with 26 ecclesiastical parishes by 1890, which are reduced to 9 parishes today) was a unit of civil government, in Middlesex until 1889, then the new County of London; a Vestry until 1900, becoming the Metropolitan Borough of St. Marylebone, and then part of City of Westminster in 1964. 

     The 1851 England Census also shows an entry of Edward Robinson, living not far from his brother/nephew J.H. Robinson.  It shows he was living alone at; 147 St Anne Soho, Strand, Middlesex, England.  Aged; 27 – and is recorded as an; ‘Artist’.  You will notice his name is recorded as ‘Edward Robinson’, with no mention of his middle name William.  It also shows his estimated date of birth as; 1824 and place as; Heddon, Yorkshire, England.  Though the ‘Heddon’ seems to be an error, as the birth record search for Edward Robinson, – also trying with the middle name ‘William’ in a separate search, yields no matching results.  – 

     The same seems to apply to his death, as the England & Wales, Death Index: 1837-1915 – Record death for Edward Robinson, – shows this is as the only recorded death of an Edward Robinson in 1883, and who had the same estimated birth date of 1824, – though no recorded death of a Edward William Robinson has been found.  Though despite it not being possible to confirm the birth record of Edward Robinson, – which if proved positive; – would have shown his parents were; Mary and Abraham Robinson, if the brother, or nephew of John Henry Robinson, which would mean he would have to have another brother or sister for this to be the case, and is more likely, – we can safely assume they were indeed related as either brothers or uncle and nephew to each other, as apart from the historical archives confirming he was living within a walking distance from John Henry Robinson, he was registered as and ‘artist’, and the dates of birth and deaths coincide, – backed up by the historical accounts of  what the previous owners had stated about them, whose ancestor had eventually bequeathed the portfolio of works. 

     It’s said around the 1870’s, Edward Robinson moved away to the Kent area, not far from the Thames Estuary to have a better quality of air to breath and more countryside to paint, – though it seems he settled there and remained a bachelor – and where in fact he’s registered as dying in the Thanet district.  The great, great grandmother of the last but one owner of this portfolio, was bequeathed it by Edward Robinson, as she was his non-live in housemaid for over 15 years, she even helped nurse him through ill health, as it’s thought he died at the age of 59 – from TB.  The collection was then successively handed down the family and eventually bequeathed to the next door neighbour, of the last daughter that had inherited them from their mother.  She, [whom prefers to remain anonymous], had too later on and in life became ill due to Cancer, and died in 1999.  She had also been nursed and helped by the neighbour she ultimately bequeathed the collection to, [and who also prefers to remain anonymous], as she had no children of her own to leave them to.  They were then bequeathed to Mr McCann in 2001 by the previous owner, who had been a long time neighbour and family friend of his, – he too had laboured over the years, and as from as child – when he would run errands for both families – and as he got older would decorate their homes and maintain their gardens, – so he forged a fairly close relationship with both these neighbours who previously owned the collection from a young age, they knew how much he adored looking at them as he did over the years, – though he never expected to bequeath them himself.

The conclusion is that; John Henry Robinson is the very ‘same’ person as that of Henry Robinson, – and all works accredited to either one of them, should in fact be accredited to; John Henry Robinson, also known as Henry Robinson, – and that it should be recorded as so and that appropriate dates amended and altered wherever possible to help clarify this century long mystery into the life of; the phantom Henry Robinson.

    J.H. Robinson settled and lived for many years in Petworth, Sussex, and later in life married Edith; “a lady of property”. There is no record they had any children.  You won’t be able to find the gravestone for poor old Henry, though you will for Henry Peach Robinson, and more importantly John Henry Robinson, – as in fact his wife Edith, born in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales around 1801, had a bust of him erected as a memorial at the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Petworth, Sussex when he died in 1871 at the age of 75. – Edith is on the 1871 England Census as living as the wife of John Henry Robinson – they also had four servants registered as living with them at that same time in 1871, and the year J.H. Robinson died, his estate of under £4,000 was left to his widow.

     The provenance of the portfolio of [John] Henry Robinson, along with other works of Edward William Robinson’s, and in which other works of art including etchings after Joshua Reynolds, and by Bartolozzi, Samuel Freeman and engraver, Illustrator; J. B . Zwecker – and other listed artists were also among this collection. – Following acquiring the collection in 2001, not much investigating into the collection took place, – and was only recently the present owner coincidently solved the mistaken identity of the ‘two’ Henry Robinson’s, – other than small parts of the collection having been seen by the relevant members of staff at the V&A Museum, in 2003/4 in trying to help identify some of the subjects and scenes in the collection, because due to the majority being ‘working proof before letters’ it’s quite difficult to recognise the person in the portrait or the characters in a scene etc. – the Royal Academy had seen parts of the collection in 2010, when again the owner consulted them to help identity some engravings.      

     The proofs of John Henry Robinson, would no doubt intuitively been handed down to his younger brother/nephew Edward, a man of the same trade, and a family trade at that, they would have probably stayed in the same ‘workshop’ they shared, and never removed in the working lifetime of J.H. Robinson, as it’s unlikely he would have kept them at his Petworth home where he died.  And that with them and along with Edward Robinson’s own proofs, – were later on and directly bequeathed to his old housemaid, whom work for 15 years at his house in Kent.  It’s said Edward Robinson never married and remained a bachelor, though he often travelled the world, and how he perhaps contacted the TB he is believed to have died off.  

     It appears the Robinson’s also knew the engraver Samuel Freeman, and the illustrator and engraver Johann-Baptiste Zwecker, a German, 1814-1876.  Work of Samuel Freeman can be found among this collection, as can the signature of Johann-Baptiste Zwecker, signed; Z.B. Zwecker.  Which is quite intriguing, as within the folded up paper in which bears Zwecker’s signature, are three cards with transparent paper laid on them, and what we would call ‘tracing paper’, with pencil drawings of John Hanning Speke’s adventures during his discovery of the source of the Nile.  The drawings/illustrations are of the natives and kings they met on their journey throughout parts of Africa, describing the grain sacks or Banana bunch they might be carrying, or the weapons they were holding, or their dress and the items of gold they were wearing are all highlighted, among village scenes in general. It makes sense why the outer covering of these drawings are signed by Zwecker, as it’s quite possible he actual drew these illustrations, as he also worked on many books and illustration that included the adventures of Speke, or they were perhaps drawn by some on the expedition to Africa and who accompanied Speke on the journey . 

     These “Zwecker” drawings within the collection are more than likely from the; The Story of Africa, as here’s some extracts; “On the 25th of November, 1861, the ” Palace of King Kumanika ” was reached, and a huge pot of native beer, with some choice tobacco, was sent to the long-expected guests…”   –   “…thought of Suwarora and Usui hospitality, which it appeared bore an invidious reputation in that part of Central Africa”. – “The “palace” was of the usual type — a collection of huts inside an enclosure…,” – “…which the Arabs had built for the king to transact public business in, and by the neatness of Rumanika’s private hut. This apartment was supported on a number of poles, to which were fastened a large collection of spears, brass-headed with iron handles,  and iron-headed with wooden ones, of good workmanship, and a number of ornaments, consisting of brass grapnels and small models of cows, executed in iron by his Arab visitors. The king and his brother and sons were all fine-looking men— not of the Negro type…”  “Zwecker’s pencil drawings include all the above, here’s what can be understood and reads;

Drawing of Buffalo head and tusks, written; “Young D. – Shot by C. Speke”. [Captain Speke].

Drawing of long antlers with; 7 ½ “ – 27”, – written in between.

Drawing of buffalos head and tusks, – with measurements written; “2’ – 4 ¼ “.

“Ookereema, The Sultan of Ukiney” [?] – Sketch of the king in tribal dress.

Two sketches of village layouts; “The Sultan of Ukirney” [?] and; “M–?—  Vill, Ukirney “[?].

“Music Band W’soombwah” –sketch of natives drumming.

Sketches of nine tribesmen heads, – with unreadable text; “Burber , Kirangola, Soldier, W’Kings, taken in Ukirney, “Wasoombwah”.  – Three small sketches of native sitting aiming bow and arrow, female head, female standing; “Wasoombwah”. –  “Traveller with Calabar of beer…, Women selling Plantain…, Gold…” – pencil line pointing to the gold bangles on the women’s wrist. – “Grain worked and Banana Leaves…”– “Gold…”  – pencil line pointing to the gold bangles on the women’s wrist. – “Natives of Usini “ – [Tanzania],  – “Women with grain….”.

     Here’s another example of Zwecker’s work; Wild Sports of the World, London: S.O. Beeton, 1861. Published in eight monthly parts, as from May 1861. The title page reads: Wild sports of the world : a boy’s book of natural history and adventure. By James Greenwood, with woodcuts from designs by Harden Melville and William Harvey, coloured illustrations from water-colour drawings by J.B. Zwecker, Harrison Weir, and Harden Melville, – portraits of celebrated hunters from original photographs, and maps showing the habitats of animals and plants all over the world.

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