The works of the teenage caricaturist Richard Newton have grown immensely popular in the fifteen years which have elapsed since they were ‘rediscovered’ by David Alexander in the excellent biography he produced to accompany an exhibition at the University of Manchester. Newton’s grotesquely exaggerated style of caricature and his penchant for the crude and the politically confrontational, has led many collectors to seize upon his work as being exemplary of late eighteenth-century British caricature at its best. The popularity and comparative rarity of many of Newton’s most famous prints means that their value is often second only to that of the Gillray’s most coveted designs, with a copy of A Bugaboo!!! fetching just over £2,000 at the last major sale of caricatures held by Bonham’s auction house in 2010.
Newton died on the morning of the 9th December 1798 at the age of just 21. He had probably been unwell for several months, although the precise nature of this illness and the cause of death remain a mystery. David Alexander notes that a brief obituary appeared in the London Oracle of 14th December, which was the day of Newton’s funeral, and in the monthly edition of the Gentlemen’s Magazine . I believe I may have also uncovered another obituary, published two days before the notice appeared in the Oracle which contains one hitherto unrecorded fact about the enigmatic young caricaturist’s life. This obituary appeared in the Hereford Journal of Wednesday 12th December 1798 and it describes Newton as “a native of Dormington, in this county”. If this assertion could be proven to be correct then it would significantly alter what little we know of Newton’s background, as he is typically thought of as being a native Londoner, the potential son of a haberdasher named Richard Newton who was resident in Brydges Street Covent Garden at the time of the 1784 Westminster election. Newton may well have been the son of a Herefordshire man who relocated to the metropolis sometime after his birth in 1779.
The full obituary reads:
On Sunday morning died, in the 21st year of his age, Mr Richard Newton, Caricaturist and Miniature-painter, of Brydges-street, Covent Garden, London – a native of Dormington in this county. His natural abilities and fertile genius promised a rapid course to first-rate eminence in his profession : and his early loss will be long regretted by his relations, friends and numerous acquaintances.
[1.] Alexander speculates that Newton may have died from tuberculosis. David Alexander, Richard Newton and English Caricature in the 1790s, 1998, p. 54 f.106.