DEVIS, Arthur
(b. 1712, Preston, d. 1787, Brighton)


English painter, part of a family of painters. By 1728 he had left Preston, and the following year he was working in London for the Flemish topographical and sporting painter Peter Tillemans. There he specialized in landscape painting and copying various works in Tillemans's studio after Marco Ricci, Giovanni Paolo Pannini and Jan van Bloemen.

Devis's earliest known commission, Hoghton Towers from Duxon Hill, Lancashire (1735; private collection), painted for Sir Henry Hoghton during a trip to Preston in 1734-35, shows Tillemans's influence in its attention to detail and the use of thin, transparent paint. Thomas Lister with his Family (c. 1738; Art Institute, Chicago) demonstrates a similar interest in landscape, featuring the family group in Gisburn Park, Lancs.

Devis had returned to London by 1742 and established himself as a painter of conversation pieces, with a studio in Great Queen Street. He received his greatest number of commissions for portraits between 1748 and 1758. Many of the pictures show the sitters in landscapes. Although described with what seems like precise topographical detail, these views, like all but one of the interiors, were mostly invented by Devis.

During the 1760s, Devis's success as a portrait painter diminished sharply. Although he exhibited works at the new Free Society of Artists between 1761 and 1775 and in 1780, becoming its president in 1768, his style seemed old-fashioned compared to portraits by important contemporary artists such as Joshua Reynolds and Johann Zoffany. During the 1770s and 1780s, he seems to have made his living by restoring pictures. He retired to Brighton in 1783 and died there in 1787.

Devis married Elizabeth Faulkner (1719-1788) in 1742. They had twenty-two children, only six of whom survived past infancy. Two, Thomas Anthony Devis and Arthur William Devis, became painters. Devis's half-brother Anthony Devis also was a painter.