Bunbury, Henry William 1750-1811, amateur artist and caricaturist, was born in 1750, being the second son of the Rev. Sir William Bunbury, bart., of Mildenhall in Suffolk. The Bunburys were an old Norman family who are mentioned in Stephen's time as established at Bunbury in Cheshire. Young Bunbury was educated at Westminster School, and afterwards at St. Catharine's Hall, Cambridge. Both at school and college he seems to have acquired an early reputation as a humorous draughtsman, going so far at Westminster as to etch A Boy riding upon a Pig, a copy of which is to be found in the British Museum Print Room; and at Cambridge accumulating a fair gallery of ungainly dons and awkward undergraduates. He drew chiefly in pencil, or black and red chalk; but, although he seems to have used the needle, he was never successful as an etcher, and his designs were generally reproduced by engravers, mostly in stipple or dot. One of the first who copied Bunbury's designs in this way was Bretherton, who had a well-known print shop at 134 New Bond Street. In 1771 Bunbury married Catherine Horneck, Goldsmith's Little Comedy, to whom the poet two years later addressed that dancing Letter in Verse and Prose which Mr. (afterwards Sir James) Prior first gave to the world in 1837, in his Life of Goldsmith. Previous to his marriage he had visited France and Italy, studying drawing at Rome, and one of the earliest of Bretherton's engravings, dated 1 Oct. 1771, reproduces a View on the Pont Neuf at Paris. Two of the happiest of his subsequent designs, Strephon and Chloe and The Salutation Tavern, are dated 28 Nov. 1772 and 20 March 1773 respectively; and in the latter year he published a number of his sketches of foreign costumes and a series of burlesque illustrations to Tristram Shandy. Others of his better-known compositions which succeeded these are Hyde Park, 1780; A Family Piece and Coffee-house Patriots, both dated 15 Oct. 1781; A Chop-house, 15 Oct. 1781 (which contains a portrait of Dr. Johnson); Hints to Bad Horsemen (a set), 1781; Richmond Hill, 1 March 1782, the original drawing for which belonged to Horace Walpole (Hanmer Corresp. 1838, p. 397); and A Long Story, 25 April 1782, which was engraved by J. R. Smith. The three works by which he is best known belong, however, to 1787. They are A Long Minuet, as danced at Bath (25 June); The Propagation of a Lie (29 Dec.); and the volume of equestrian misadventures called An Academy for Grown Horsemen, by Geoffrey Gambado, 1st edition 1787, 2nd edition 1788. To 1788 (26 June) also belongs The Country Club, another of his designs much sought after by collectors. All these latter were engraved by W. Dickinson, who, like Bretherton, published many of Bunbury's productions. In 1791 appeared the Annals of Horsemanship, a kind of sequel to the Academy for Grown Horsemen. Bunbury also essayed some serious compositions. There is a set of Military Portraits, engraved by E. D. Soiron, 1791, which bears his name; he also executed some compositions for the Arabian Nights; and he was a contributor to Boydell's Shakespeare, 1803-5. One of his water-colours, Florizel and Autolycus changing Garments (from the Winter's Tale), forms part of the William Smith gift at South Kensington. But his forte was caricature, and this he continued to produce until his death, in May 1811, at Keswick, to which place he had retired in 1798, when he lost his wife. Patience in a Punt, Anglers of 1811, and A Barber's Shop in Assize Time, all belong to the final year of his life. The first two were etched by Rowlandson, while A. Barber's Shop has the distinction of being the last plate upon which the famous Gillray was engaged before he lapsed into hopeless idiocy [see Gillray, James]. There is, it should be added, an earlier Barber's Shop, dated 12 May 1785.
Bunbury owed much during his lifetime to the charm of a genial nature, and to his position as a man of family and education. West flattered him, and Walpole enthusiastically compared him to Hogarth. He was the friend of Goldsmith, Garrick, and Reynolds, and the favourite of the Duke and Duchess of York, to whom in 1787 he was appointed equerry. All this, coupled with the facts that he was seldom, if ever, personal, and wholly abstained from political subjects, greatly aided his popularity with the printsellers and the public of his day, and secured his admission, as an honorary exhibitor, to the walls of the Academy, where between 1780 and 1808 his works frequently appeared. But, as an artist, he remained an amateur until his death; and his designs—many interesting examples of which, both in oils and black and white, are still preserved by the present Sir C. Bunbury of Barton—must be admitted to be inferior in humour to Rowlandson's and in satire to Gillray's. Nevertheless, they are not without a good deal of grotesque drollery of the rough-and-ready kind in vogue towards the end of the last century—that is to say, drollery depending in a great measure for its laughable qualities upon absurd contrasts, ludicrous distortions, horseplay, and personal misadventure. Bunbury's portrait was painted by Lawrence and engraved by Ryder. There is also a portrait of him as a youth by Reynolds, engraved by Blackmore. To complete this account it should be added that he was colonel of the West Suffolk militia, and very successful as an actor in private theatricals. His eldest son, Charles John Bunbury, who died in 1798, was the Master Bunbury painted by Reynolds in 1781; his second son, afterwards Sir Henry Bunbury, bart. [qv.], was Sir Joshua's godchild.
Buss's English Graphic Satire, 1874, 101-4
Wright's History of Caricature and Grotesque, 1865, 456-8
Grego's Rowlandson, 1880, i. 76-80
Hanmer Correspondence, 1838
Angelo's Reminiscences, 1830, 411-12
Redgrave, Bryan, and Bunbury's Works in the British Museum, which include some facsimiles of his original drawings.
Contributor: A. D. [Austin Dobson]