Robert Dighton

(1751? - 1814)

Robert Dighton was an important English etcher and artist, specializing in caricature. He was originally apprenticed to Benjamin Godfrey, a goldsmith, but in 1772 entered the Royal Academy School, where he trained as a draughtsman, artist and illustrator. On leaving, he established himself as a drawing-master and miniature portrait painter, with a second career as a singer at Sadler’s Wells, often appearing on stage with his mistress, the soprano Catherine Bertles.

Dighton was employed by the printseller Carington Bowles, to produce caricatures; originally they were issued anonymously, but as their popularity grew, he began to sign his name to his output.

He also dabbled as an antiquarian printseller, often researching in the British Museum’s Print Room. Unfortunately, it transpired that he was stealing some of his stock of old master prints from the Museum. Caught redhanded, he was let off lightly: he was not prosecuted, in exchange for returning those items he had. He fled to Oxford to hide from the scandal returning only in 1810, to resume his career as a drawing master.

Among his most famous drawings are the Geography Bewitched series, produced for Carington Bowles and reprinted by his heirs, Bowles and Carver; the three maps are: Geography Bewitched or, a droll Caricature Map of England and Wales and companion maps of Scotland and Ireland. His natural style was more “homely” than the acerbic tone adopted by contemporary artists, which make his work more appealing; this series were particularly popular, and a number of later artists produced designs modelled on Dighton’s theme.