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Biographical Memoirs Of Extraordinary Painters.

RA Collection: Book

Record number



London:: Printed For J. Robson, New-Bond-Street., MDCCLXXX.

Physical Description

[4], 158, [2] p.; 190 mm. (Quarto.)


[T.p.] - Advertisement [by The Editor] - [Text] - [Errata].


ESTC, T62056
D. Claésson, The narratives of the biographical legend: the early works of William Beckford (2002)
B. Fothergill, Beckford of Fonthill (1979)
Chapman and J. Hodgkin, A bibliography of William Beckford of Fonthill (1930)
La jeunesse de William Beckford (1928)

Summary Note

The anonymous author is described in the editor's Advertisement as a precocious genius, who intended 'to exhibit striking objects both of nature and art, together with some sketches of human life and manners, through a more original medium than those usually adopted in the walk of novel-writing and romance'.

The work consists of five imaginary memoirs by William Beckford, entitled, 'Aldrovandus Magnus', 'Andrew Guelph, And Og of Basan, Disciples of Aldrovandus Magnus', 'Sucrewasser of Vienna', 'Blunderbussiana' and 'Watersouchy'. These painters are described as living in Europe at periods between the late 15th and late 17th centuries. The greatest of them, Aldrovandus Magnus, was a serial history-painter, whose ambitions would have known no bounds had not a great fire destroyed his supplies of canvas.

These parodies may have been triggered by Beckford's boyhood experience of showing visitors the treasures of his father's house, Fonthill Splendens. In later life his taste for fantasy and love of the arts flowered in his writings - his novel Vathek and the memoirs of his travels in Italy, Portugal and elsewhere - and in his activities as collector and patron, most conspicuously in his rebuilding of Fonthill in dramatic, neo-Gothic style.

A second edition of the work (with expanded title) was published in 1780; and the work was republished in 1824 and 1834.

Copy Note

Imperfect: lacks the final leaf of Errata.

The title-page is inscribed in pencil in an unknown hand, 'By William Beckford formerly the owner of Fonthill'. A preliminary page is inscribed in ink in an unknown hand, 'This work published anonymously by William Beckford of Fonthill, who wished to conceal his name and age in order to elicit an impartial judgment, is, according to a writer in the "Retrospective Review" (Vol X. part 1.), one of the earliest literary efforts of the author of Caliph Vathek, and consists of five narratives of the lives and adventures of imaginary painters. The stories are almost entirely unconnected with real history, though the names of several celebrated painters are in troduced as the contemporaries of these imaginary artists; and in the last piece Gerard Dow, Mieris, and Madam Merian are among the personages of the narrative.'

Binding Note

19th-century mottled calf; rebacked in 20th century, green morocco spine-label lettered 'Beckford's Extraordinary Painters'.


Artists, European - Painters - Painting - Europe - 16th century - 17th century
Fiction - Art criticism - Great Britain - 18th century


William Beckford
James Robson, publisher, bookseller