The Story of Richard Dalton 1720-1791


Researched, complied & edited by Rodney G. Dalton from sources on The World Wide Web.


Richard Dalton was King George III’s Royal Art surveyor


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Present day Royal Academy of Arts building in Piccadilly, London, England


The Royal Academy of Arts was founded through a personal act of King George III on 10 December 1768 with a mission to promote the arts of design through education and exhibition. The motive in founding the Academy was twofold: to raise the professional status of the artist by establishing a sound system of training and expert judgment in the arts and to arrange the exhibition of contemporary works of art attaining an appropriate standard of excellence. Behind this concept was the desire to foster a national school of art and to encourage appreciation and interest in the public based on recognized canons of good taste.


The office of the Surveyor of the King's/Queen's Pictures, in the Royal Collection Department of the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, is responsible for the care and maintenance of the royal collection of pictures owned by the Sovereign in an official capacity – as distinct from those owned privately and displayed at Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle and elsewhere. The office has only been full-time since 1972. It now operates in a professional capacity with a staff of a dozen people.


Richard Dalton was apprenticed to a coach-painter in Clerkenwell and afterwards went to Rome to study drawing and painting. Among the earliest of eighteenth-century English painters to make this trip, he was there by March 1741 when he is reported by one Grand Tourist as not only 'by far the best of any of the English artists' there but also making drawings of 'some statues ... in red chalk ... for Lord Brooke' and drawings in black and white chalks on blue paper (seemingly reported by him as a technique of his own invention) of Raphael's frescos in the Loggia of Psyche and the Triumph of Galatea in the Villa Farnesina for the Countess of Hertford. Like many artists in Italy he also dealt in art: in June 1743 he was in contact with Sir Horace Mann, the British envoy in Florence, about a Raphael that was for sale. This is the first sign of the sort of entrepreneurship which later made him extraordinarily unpopular with his colleagues. In 1763, when Dalton, now Librarian to the Prince of Wales, returned to Italy and crossed paths with the engraver Robert Strange, Strange was moved to write to his patron that 'persecution was to haunt me even beyond the Alps, in the form of Mr. Dalton'. Dalton never lacked for good patrons, however, for in 1749 he had traveled to Greece, Turkey and Egypt with Lord Charlemont, and in 1778 George III made him the surveyor of the Royal pictures.


Dalton was also a print dealer who had a warehouse in Pall Mall; but his business did not prosper, and he accordingly approached the King with a scheme to establish an academy of arts in this warehouse instead. “His Majesty clearly saw a folly into which his librarian had precipitated himself,” wrote the author of An Inquiry into the Rise and Establishment of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1775; and ‘therefore, from his natural humanity, as well as from a desire of promoting the fine arts, which he loved, he adopted the proposed plan. The label over the door containing the Print Warehouse was razed and another substituted in its place, viz. ‘The Royal Academy’.


In all fourteen chalk drawings, all about the same size, made by Dalton from Antique sculptures are known, with thirteen of them in the Royal Collection: six, including another drawing of the Farnese Hercules, are dated 1741 and three 1742. The artist's wash-line border on this drawing suggests that it was one made for Lord Brooke. Dalton would have copied these marbles, not just because it was a commission but also for a very practical purpose: as records of great works of art they would inform his own art or any teaching he might do when he got back home. A portrait by Johann Zoffany in the Tate Gallery shows Dalton with such a drawing in his hand as he instructs his niece and in 1770, just as the market for such images increased as the teaching of the recently founded Royal Academy emphasized the use of classical prototypes in pictures, John Boydell published a set of twenty prints after Dalton's drawings, including one from the Hercules.




The colossal statue of the Hercules which Dalton drew in the Farnese Palace was known throughout Europe and commented upon and copied by generations of writers and artists (Haskell and Penny 1981, pp.229-32). In Dalton's time it was not uncommon for the great and the good to be credited with classical attributes: the 1770 print of Hercules was dedicated by Dalton to Chichester Fortescue Esq. - with Hercules' legendary strength and honour linked to a surname which translates as 'strong shield' - just as he dedicated his print of Apollo, the god of medicine, to Dr Mead.


In the very act of copying, and also by drawing with red chalk, Dalton was, of course, self-consciously setting out to emulate those Renaissance draughts men who had used the same medium (as, indeed, they had used black and white chalk on blue paper) for the same purpose. Unlike Rubens, for example, who drew from the Farnese Hercules when he was in Italy in 1605-8 and reworked the subject for a later drawing of Hercules Standing on Discord (British Museum), Dalton never put his work to such a use for he never ventured into the area of history painting: in fact, Edward Edwards (1738-1806) wrote that Dalton 'as an artist never acquired any great powers' .


When George III’s librarian, Richard Dalton, met the great mezzotint engraver Francesco Bartolozzi on a visit to Italy in the 1760s. This led to Bartolozzi coming to England to work on a series of etchings after Guercino in the Royal Collection. Other engravers included Dalton himself, James Basire, Giovanni Vitalba and Lady Louisa Augusta Greville. In 1791, the entrepreneurial London publishers John & Josiah Boydell bought most of the plates and issued them both individually and bound in a single volume.



Forbidden Images: Richard Dalton’s Career

Excerpted from an article by Millicent Craig, Daltons in History, Volume 8 No 6, June 2005 issue.


In 1747, Sir Charlemont of Ireland (James Caulfield) set out on a journey to Egypt. Charlemont, a wealthy young man, had read the accounts of travelers who had gone before and was intrigued by the privacy rules that prevented them from drawing or painting religious rites or women. He wanted to return with visuals of life to add to his accounts of the voyage.


On the journey he stopped in Greece where he met a young draughtsman, Richard Dalton. Charlemont invited him and his friends to join his party and to be the official image maker of religious rites and of people, particularly of women who were confined by the Ottomans. Outsiders were not allowed to view these subjects, let alone draw them. Dalton, who was about 27 (and reportedly born in Cumbria in 1712), accepted the challenge.


As they traveled about, the party frequently remained concealed from view while observing the events that Dalton captured with pen. He provided Charlemont with ample drawings, many colored that became the cornerstone of Charlemont’s numerous publications. Most were lost from the library at Charlemont Castle and only a few remain. Four of Dalton’s works are on display at Trinity College, Dublin, not because of the quality of his artistry, but because of the rarity of the subject matter.


Dalton produced a separate account with engravings of his travels to Egypt and asked for Charlemont’s patronage to publish but was refused. The whereabouts of this account is currently unknown but Dalton’s career took a highly visible turn during the reign of George III.


George III had negotiated (prior to becoming king) for the 17th Century collection of historical and scientific drawings known as the Museo Cartace that had been assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo. After dal Pozzo’s death the collection was purchased by Pope Clement XI in 1704, and then it went to his nephew Cardinal Albani. The drawings arrived in London in 1763.


The collection was reorganized by the now Royal Librarian, Richard Dalton. Dalton kept a large number of folios for his own collection and after his death in 1791 they were purchased by Charles Townley. After WWI another part of the collection was dispersed from the Royal Library at Windsor.


Dalton met Pennsylvania born colonial artist, Benjamin West in Venice in 1762 and he commissioned on behalf of George III a painting entitled Cymon and Iphegia based on an episode in the Decameron. This was the beginning of a 30 year relationship between West and the monarch. West’s talent was immediately recognized and he became the royal painter of portraits (and of historical scenes) and ultimately President of the Royal Academy. George III was renowned for his art collections and as a patron of the arts. His reign was overshadowed by the economic and financial loss of the American colonies.


Richard Dalton left no issue. A painting that depicts a genteel scene with Dalton, his wife Esther and his orphaned niece, Mary Le Huelle (whom Dalton adopted), is on display at the Tate Gallery in London. It was painted by Johan Zoffany circa 1765-1768.


Index notes on Dalton show that he compiled Views and Engravings in Greece and Egypt, 1790-91. Whether this was the account for which he originally sought patronage of Charlemont or whether this was the result of a journey that he took prior to his death in 1791 is not clear. Your editor has not located a biography of Richard Dalton.


Dr. Lucy J. Slater notes that there was a baptism of a Richard Dalton son of John Dalton at Stanwyx, Carlisle, Cumberland in 1715. She also writes that there was a grammar school in Carlisle that specialized in teaching the trades during the 18th C. and it may have been here that Richard learned the trade of draughtsman/engraver.



One of a group of prints by Richard Dalton (c.1715 - 1791) and various other engravers, after drawings made by Dalton from antique statues which he saw in Rome, published in the 1740s. Some like this etching bear dedications from Dalton, which suggests that he was involved in the publication. Boydell published a set of twenty plates after Dalton's drawings, in 1770.


Richard Dalton began his career as a painter, but then became an antiquarian-dealer, principally through his activities as Librarian to George, Prince of Wales (subsequently George III). He first traveled to Italy in 1739 to continue his studies, first at Bologna, then at Rome, where he specialized in highly finished red chalk drawings after classical statues. By mid-1741 Dalton had also become active as a dealer, particularly in prints. In 1749 he traveled with Roger Kynaston and John Frederick to Naples, South Italy, and Sicily, where they joined a party consisting of James Caulfeild, earl of Charlemont, Francis Pierpoint Burton, and others. From thence Dalton accompanied Lord Charlemont on his tour to Constantinople, Greece, and Egypt. He was the first Englishman to make drawings of the monuments of ancient art in these countries. Some of these he etched and engraved himself. A ‘Selection from the Antiquities of Athens’ was the first publication of its kind, but it was quickly put into the shade by the more accurate and trustworthy publications of James Stuart (1713-1788) and Nicholas Revett.



King George III

In 1762 George III purchased Buckingham House for his young bride Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The decorative arts commissioned for their new home began the King's life-long commitment to British 'manufactures'. Mahogany furniture by William Vile, silver by Thomas Heming, porcelain from the Chelsea, Derby, Wedgwood and Worcester factories, and ornamental metalwork by Matthew Boulton are among the superb pieces shown in the exhibition.


George III had a deep and practical interest in all branches of art and science. He was taught architecture by William Chambers (who designed the dazzling Gold State Coach for the King) and a number of his architectural drawings are included in the exhibition. His commissioning of some of the most sophisticated clocks, barometers and watches ever created stemmed from a fascination with and understanding of their mechanisms. The case for Christopher Pinchbeck's magnificent four-dialled astronomical clock and Matthew Boulton's decoration for the mantel clock by Thomas Wright, both in the exhibition, were partly designed by the King.


George III and Queen Charlotte were depicted by many of the leading British artists of the 18th century, including Allan Ramsay and Thomas Gainsborough. They chose the German painter Johan Zoffany to record scenes of family life with their nine sons and six daughters. Interestingly, at the time of the long-running dispute over the American colonies, George III commissioned a series of history paintings from the American artist Benjamin West, whose heroic subject matter reflected the virtues of honour, fortitude and chivalry that he particularly admired.


George III's purchase in 1762 of the celebrated collection formed by the British consul in Venice, Joseph Smith, remains one of the most important acquisitions in the history of the Royal Collection. It encompassed superb Italian paintings and drawings, including works by Raphael, Zuccarelli and Annibale Carracci, and the finest group of Canalettos in existence. The collection also contained outstanding ancient and Renaissance gems, intaglios, medals and books.


Saint Giustina and the Guardian Angel commending

the soul of an infant to the Madonna and Child,

by Gaetano Gandolfi, one of the men brought

to England by Richard Dalton.