Edward John Poynter

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Edward John Poynter

English Aesthetic, Victorian Neoclassical, Olympian Classical Revivalist painter

Born 3/20/1836 - Died 7/26/1919

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Early in his career Poynter studied in Rome, where he met Frederic Leighton, his greatest single artistic influence. He then moved to Paris in 1855. On returning to London, he became involved on book illustration. In 1865 he produced his first really successful picture, Faithful Unto Death, a Roman sentry staying at his post in Pompeii as Vesuvius overwhelmed the city. This dramatic painting was probably never bettered by Poynter throughout his whole long career. Poynter became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1869, at an unusually early age. Much of the rest of his life was devoted to the Academy, he was hardworking, conscientious, and a competent administrator.

Poynter married Agnes MacDonald, the sister of Burne-Jones' wife Georgiana. Burne-Jones disliked Poynter, who was an unsympathetic, brusque character. When Leighton died in 1896, he was succeeded as President of the Royal Academy by Millais, who was suffering from cancer of the throat. On the death of Millais a few months later, Poynter succeeded him, narrowly defeating Briton Riviere in the vote. He was PRA for the next two decades.

From the turn of the century Poynter's paintings declined both in numbers and standard, his main priority being the running of the Academy. He lived to see the death of classicism, and the total eclipse of his own artistic standards, and those of his contemporaries. He adopted the approach of ignoring new developments of which he did not approve. Unhappily Poynter outstayed his welcome. One of the last duties of the eighty one year old PRA, was to attend the funeral of J.W. Waterhouse. There was, though, something splendid about the way he remained consistent to the last, resisting what he saw as the corruption, and denigration of all that was beautiful in art. He may even have been right.

Further Reading:
  • Sir Edward Poynter's Obituary in The Times, Monday 28th July, 1919. Our thanks go to Paul Ripley, who also supplied his own thoughts on the obituary.

  • Biography reprinted with the kind permission of Paul Ripley, editor of the Victorian Art in Britain website.

    Christoper Wood, world renowned art historian specializing in the Victorian artists, wrote in to share some fascinating biographical facts with us:

    There is a book on the four Macdonald sisters: A Circle of Sisters by Judith Flanders.

    They all made remarkable marriages - one married Burne-Jones, another Poynter, another John Kipling (father of Rudyard), and the fourth married Alfred Baldwin, and was mother of Stanley Baldwin.

  • Personal

    father of

    • Poynter, Ambrose (1868-1923)

    grandson of

    son of

    • Poynter, Ambrose (1796-1886)

    student of

    teacher of


    associate member of

    • Royal Academy of Art from 1869

    director of

    • National Gallery, London from 1894 to 1894

    president of

    • Royal Academy of Art from 1896 to 1896

    Pg 1 of 2

    Royal Academy of Arts
    London, W.
    Dec. 6th, 1905

    Dear (...),
    I am very anxious to have Lord Chesham's so-called Jordeans if possible for our exhibition. Can you tell me if it is in Dyer's hands? If so I will write and hurry him up to get it ready in time. I called to see you two days ago, and as I shall not be able to look you up again this week. I thought it better to write as time is running short.

    Yours very truly

    Edward J. Poynter

    Have you heard anything further about the King's Beechey?
    Knolly thought that he would be willing to lend it.

    Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

    Pg 2 of 2

    Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

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