John Boydell  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

John Boydell (19 January 1720 (New Style)12 December 1804) was an eighteenth-century British publisher noted for his reproductions of engravings. He helped alter the trade imbalance between Britain and France in engravings and initiated a British tradition of engraving. A former engraver himself, Boydell promoted the interests of artists as well as patrons and as a result his business prospered.

The son of a land surveyor, Boydell apprenticed himself to an artist he admired and learned engraving. He established his own business in 1746 and published his first book of engravings around the same time. Boydell did not think much of his own artistic efforts and eventually started buying the works of others, becoming a print dealer as well as an artist. He became a successful importer of French prints during the 1750s and was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1760. Frustrated by the French's refusal to trade prints in kind, Boydell commissioned a truly spectacular print to get their attention. William Wollett's engraving of Richard Wilson's Children of Niobe revolutionized the print trade. Ten years later, largely as a result of Boydell's initiative, the trade imbalance had shifted.

In the 1790s, Boydell began a large Shakespeare venture that included the establishment of a Shakespeare Gallery, the publication of an illustrated edition of Shakespeare's plays, and the release of a folio of prints depicting scenes from Shakespeare's works. Some of the most illustrious painters of the day contributed, such as Benjamin West, but financial woes dogged the project as Britain's economy suffered during the French Revolutionary Wars. Boydell died nearly bankrupt in 1804.

Throughout his life, Boydell dedicated time to civic projects: he donated art to government institutions and ran for public office. In 1790 he became Lord Mayor of London.

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