The original portrait, on which this proof mezzotint is based, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1813. The Government Art Collection also includes a version engraved by William Ward (GAC 5631), issued in 1813 by publisher W. Sams of St James’s Street, London. Lettering on Ward’s mezzotint indicates that it was made ‘from an original in the Possession of Jno. Drinkwater Junr. Esq, of Liverpool.’ Ward’s print was still being advertised by Sams in March 1827. However, by August that year Sams was advertising a new version of the print engraved by William Brett. The advertisement in the ‘Morning Post’ read:
‘THE RIGHT HONOURABLE GEORGE CANNING. – A PORTRAIT of this lamented Statesman, in the attitude of addressing an assembly, recently engraved by Brett, from a celebrated painting by Stewardson, in the possession of the Corporation of Liverpool, is published by Mr. Sams, 1, St. James’s-street. Proof Impressions (of which very few remain) on guinea, Prints 12s.’
The whereabouts of the original painting, presumably presented to the Corporation of Liverpool by Drinkwater, is now unknown. Stipple engravings after the portrait were engraved by printmakers William Holl, Robinson and others.
It has been suggested that William Brett began as a pupil or assistant to painter and printmaker Samuel William Reynolds, because a mezzotint after a portrait by Thomas Foster of 1824 is signed jointly by Reynolds and Brett. Independently Brett produced mezzotint prints after portraits by John Simpson and Sir Thomas Lawrence. However, his career was cut short (his works date from 1824 to 1828) by his premature death. A brief paragraph in the ‘Morning Chronicle’ of 20 February 1828 reported that he died at the age of 25, at his parents’ home, after ‘a long and painful illness’. A mezzotint engraved by both Brett and Samuel Cousins of 1828, engraved after a portrait by William Robinson, may have been completed by Cousins after Brett’s death.
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