Piper, Francis Le

, an English comic painter, was the son of a Kentish gentleman descended from a Walloon family. His father, having a plentiful estate, gave this his eldest son a liberal education, and would have had him bred a scholar, or else a merchant; but his genius leading him wholly to designing, he could not fix to any particular science or business but the art to which he naturally inclined. Drawing took up all his time and all his thoughts; and being of a gay facetious humour, his manner partook of it. He delighted in drawing ugly faces; and had a talent so particular for it, that he would by a transient view of any remarkable face he met in the street, retain the likeness so exactly in his memory, that it might be supposed the person had sat several times for it. It was said of him, that he would steal a face and a man, who was not handsome enough to desire to see his picture, sat in danger in his company. He had a fancy peculiar to himself in his travels: he would often go away, and let his friends know nothing of his departure; make the tour of France and the Netherlands, a-foot; and sometimes his | frolic carried him as far as Grand Cairo. He never advertised his friends of his return, any more than he did of his intended absence, delighting to baffle their conjectures, or tantalize their feelings. In this manner he travelled, at several times, through Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Holland; in which several countries he examined the works of the several painters with pleasure and judgment, and formed to himself a manner of design which no man in that kind ever excelled, or perhaps equalled.

Having a good estate of his own, and being generous, as most men of genius are, he would never take any thing for his pieces. He drew them commonly over a bottle, which he loved so well, that he spent great part of his hours of pleasure in a tavern. This was the occasion that some of his best pieces, especially such as are as large as the life, are to be found in those houses; particularly at the Mitre Tavern, in Stocks-market, where there was a room called the Amsterdam, adorned with his pictures in black and white. The room took its name from his pieces; which, representing a Jesuit, a Quaker preaching, and other preachers of most sects, was called the Amsterdam; as containing an image of almost as many religions as are professed in that free city. He drew also other pieces of humour for a Mr. Shepheard, a vintner, at the Bell, in Westminster, which Mr. Holmes, of the Mitre, purchased, to make his collection of this master’s pieces the more complete; and the benefit of shewing them was not a little advantageous to his house. Piper drew also a piece, representing a constable with his myrmidons, in very natural and ludicrous postures. He seldom designed after the life, and neglected colouring: yet he sometimes, though very rarely, coloured some of his pieces, and is said not to have been very unsuccessful in it. He was a great admirer and imitator of Augustine Caracci, Rembrandt, and Heemskirk’s manner of design, and was always in raptures when he spoke of Titian’s colouring: for, notwithstanding he never had application enough to make himself a master of that part of his art, he admired it in those that were so, especially the Italians. He drew the pictures of several of his friends in black and white; and maintained a character of truth, which shewed, that if he had bestowed time to perfect himself in colouring, he would have rivalled the best of our portrait-painters. Towards the latter end of his life, having impaired his fortune, | he sometimes took money. He drew some designs for Mr. Isaac Becket, who copied them in mezzothto. Those draughts were generally done at a tavern; and, whenever he pleased, he could draw enough in half an hour to furnish a week’s work for Becket .*


Being one day at a tavern with Faithorne, Hart the engraver, and others, he scratched a head with a coal on a trencher, arW gave it to Faithome, who touched upon it. In the mean time, Piper drew another on another trencher, and exchanged it with Faithhorne for that which he had touched. They did thus ten times; and, between them, wrought up the heads to such a height of force, that nothing could be better done in that kind. These trenchers are still extant; but we cannot learn in whose hands they are at present.

His invention was fruitful, and his drawing bold and free. He understood landscape-painting, and performed it to perfection. He was particularly a great master in. perspective. In designing his landscapes, he had a manner peculiar to himself. He always carried a long book about with him, like a music-book, which, when he had a mind to draw, he opened; and, looking through it, made the lower corner of the middle of the book his point of sight: by which, when he had formed his view, he directed his perspective, and finished his picture. His hand was ready, his strokes bold; and, in his etching, short. He etched several things himself, generally on oval silver plates for his friends; who, being most of them as hearty lovers of the bottle as himself, put glasses over them, and made lids of them for their tobacco-boxes. He drew several of the grand seignors’ heads for sir Paul Rycaut’s “History of the Turks,” which were engraved by Mr. Elder. In the latter part of his life, he applied himself to modelling in wax in basso-relievo; in which manner he did abundance of things with good success. He often said, he wished he had thought of it sooner, for that sort of work suited better with his genius than any; and had he lived longer, he would have arrived to great perfection in it. Some time before his death another estate fell to him, by the decease of his mother; when, giving himself new liberty on this enlargement of his fortune, he fell into a fever by his free way of living; and, employing a surgeon to let him blood, the man unluckily pricked an artery, which accident proved mortal. Piper was very fat, which might contribute to this misfortune. He died in Aldermanbury, about 1740.

However corpulent and heavy Piper’s body was, his | mind was always sprightly and gay. He was never out of humour, nor dull; and had he borrowed more time from his mirth to give to his studies, he had certainly been an. honour to his country. However, he lives still in the memory of his acquaintance, with the character of an hoiiest man, and a great master in his art. His pieces are scattered up and down, chiefly in London; and the best and most of them were lately in the hands of Mr. Le Piper, his brother, a merchant in that city. 1


Walpole’s Anecdotes. But this article was much enlarged, we know not by whom, in the last edition of this Dictionary.