William Sharp

(1749—1824) engraver

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(1749–1824). The most eminent line-engraver of the period, Sharp also epitomizes much of the radicalism and the apocalyptic enthusiasm which inspired London's artisan culture in the years around 1800. Trained to decorate door-plates, pewter pots, or visiting-cards, he found employment as a writing engraver in the 1770s, was admitted to the Royal Academy schools in 1771, and in the early 1780s began to earn a reputation as a competent reproductive engraver [see prints, 22]. An active member of the Society for Constitutional Information, he engraved a portrait of Washington in 1780, and a ‘Declaration of Rights’, dedicated to the SCI, in 1782. By 1790 he was in contact with William Godwin, John Horne Tooke, Thomas Paine, and other London radicals, and was questioned before the Privy Council during 1794. While Sharp's precise role as a witness in the trial of Tooke remains difficult to determine, the production and publication of a substantial group of portraits, including the likenesses of Richard Brothers, Francis Burdett, Daniel Isaac Eaton, Joanna Southcott, Tooke, and Paine exemplify his radical sympathies and his important contribution to the visualization of radical London from the 1790s onward.


From An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945).

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