John Vanderbank, 1694 - 1739
Portrait of William Croft 1678-1727
Portrait of William Croft
Oil on Canvas
76.20 x 63.50 cm. (30 x 25 in.)


Croft, William (bap. 1678, d. 1727), organist and composer, was born presumably at the Shirley Manor House in Nether Eatington, Warwickshire, the fourth of seven children of William Croft (1614–1690) and his wife, Jane Brent, daughter of the late vicar of Nether Eatington, John Brent. He was baptized there on 30 December 1678.

Croft's paternal lineage dates back to Domesday Book and by the seventeenth century was distinguished by the strength of its widespread ecclesiastical connections, among them Bishop Herbert Croft (1603–1691) of Croft Castle, patriarch of the Croft family and dean of the Chapel Royal under Charles II from 1668 to 1670. Croft was a chorister in the Chapel Royal under John Blow, and his dedicatory verses to Blow in Amphion Anglicus (1700) suggest that he was also Blow's student. Although Croft is not listed in Sanford's account of the coronation of James II in 1685, it is more than likely that he entered the Chapel Royal in 1686. He remained there until no later than 1698, by which time his voice is reported to have changed. In 1700 Croft was installed as organist at St Anne's Church, Soho, following King William's donation in the previous year of the organ from the queen dowager's chapel of St James, and in the same year he was made gentleman-extraordinary at the Chapel Royal along with Jeremiah Clarke. Croft and Clarke jointly succeeded Francis Piggott as organist on 25 May 1704. Upon Clarke's death in 1707 these posts were consolidated under Croft's leadership. In October 1708, upon the death of his mentor John Blow, Croft succeeded to Blow's post as organist of Westminster Abbey, master of the children of the Chapel Royal, and composer to Queen Anne. Croft married on 7 February 1705 Mary George, the daughter of Robert George (or Georges) of Westminster, and in their marriage document she is indicated as ‘Mrs Mary George’, suggesting that she may have been an actress or singer, or perhaps an older bride. The couple appear to have had no children. About 1715 the Crofts retained a house in Charles Street, Westminster, very near St James's Palace, and at his death they were resident in Kensington. Records from 1726 of the Academy of Vocal Music confirm the attendance of Croft and the children of the Chapel Royal at the society's second meeting, thus placing him as one of its earliest members. Croft died on 14 August 1727 in Bath and was buried on the 23rd of that month near the head of Henry Purcell's tomb in Westminster Abbey. Mary Croft appears to have died some years later, but in any event no later than 28 July 1734, when her father was given full administrative responsibilities for the estate of the Crofts.

Despite Croft's achievements as an organist, it is mainly through his church compositions that his significance is measured, even though his secular output is not inconsiderable. Croft's early compositional interests are evident in two surviving composition notebooks, one of 1697 and another of 1700, both now in the British Library. His presumed earliest publications are in fact secular and appeared as songs in 1699, in the Twelve New Songs and Mercurius Musicus of William Pearson and John Playford. Secular instrumental compositions from this period include music for Courtship alamode (1700), The Funeral (1702), The Twinn Rivals (1702), and The Lying Lover (1704). Other secular compositions include numerous songs, a small number of odes, music for harpsichord and organ, a set of three sonatas for violin and basso continuo and three for flute and basso continuo (1700), six sonatas for two flutes and basso continuo (1704), and miscellaneous dances for strings. In July 1713 Croft submitted successfully to Oxford University for the degree of DMus two secular odes for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra which celebrate the treaty of Utrecht, Laurus cruentas and With Noise of Cannon. These works are extant in the university and appear in published form in Musicus apparatus academicus (1715). The greater part of Croft's œuvre of sacred compositions comprises anthems, upon which his reputation is mostly based. His collection of anthems, Musica sacra (1724), is distinguished by being possibly the earliest publication to be engraved and in the form of a score rather than in individual parts. Croft also composed various hymns, three morning and communion services, one morning and evening service, and a burial service which he appended to Musica sacra. He is generally considered to have codified the verse anthem, in which verses for solo voices with instrumental accompaniment generally alternate with sections for full choir. A small group of anthems, known as ‘full’ anthems, reflect a great indebtedness to sixteenth-century polyphonic style, owing to their use of imitative counterpoint and less overtly sectional construction; ‘Hear my prayer, o Lord’ (1724) is one such example. These attributes reflect Croft's admiration for the ‘solemnity and gravity’ of earlier music, denoted in his preface to Musica sacra. Such words might well summarize Croft himself, whom Hawkins described as a ‘grave and decent man’ (J. Hawkins, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music, 5 vols., 1776, 2.797).

Bennett Mitchell Zon  DNB

Artist biography

Vanderbank, John (1694–1739), painter and draughtsman, was born probably in London on 9 September 1694, and was baptized on 19 September at St Giles-in-the-Fields, the elder son of John Vanderbank (d. 1717), well-to-do proprietor of the Soho Tapestry Manufactory and chief arras maker to the crown, of Great Queen Street, London, and his wife, Sarah (d. 1727). He was one of the first students at Kneller's academy in Great Queen Street, 1711, later taken over by Sir James Thornhill; as it declined, Vanderbank and Louis Chéron opened a new academy in October 1720, in or just off St Martin's Lane (perhaps in Peter Court), notably holding life classes with male and female models, attended by (among others) Hogarth, Joseph Highmore, John Ellys, and James Seymour. This academy closed soon after May 1724, when Vanderbank fled to France for some five months to avoid imprisonment for debt. Vertue notes that he ‘livd very extravagantly. keeping. a chariot horses a mistres drinking & country house a purpose for her’ (Vertue, Note books, 3.98). At some point during 1724 (perhaps in France), Vanderbank married his ‘mistres’, an actress called Anne (surname unknown), deemed by Vertue to be ‘a Vain empty wooman’ (ibid.).

Vanderbank worked chiefly as a portraitist (also painting some allegorical subjects) and illustrator. From 1720 he began to establish a portrait practice, developing a free, painterly style, described by Vertue as ‘greatness of pencilling, spirit and composition’ (Vertue, Note books) and partly derived from admiration for works by Rubens and Van Dyck, some of which he studiously copied. During 1724–9 Vanderbank was repeatedly in debt and confined within the liberties of the Fleet prison. In 1727 his mother died, having prudently left her assets to her younger son, Moses (bc.1695, d. after 1745), also a painter, out of reach of John's creditors. Moses' sale of the family's tapestry interests in 1729 (to John Ellys) enabled him to discharge John's debts. From 1729 John Vanderbank occupied a house in Holles Street, Cavendish Square, rent-free (thanks to a generous patron and landlord who, however, appropriated the contents of his studio after his death) and living ‘galantly or freely according to the custom of the Age’ (Vertue, Note books, 3.97).

Portraiture, Vanderbank's most promising source of income, might (in Vertue's opinion, Note books, 5.98) have made him, after Kneller's death, the leading portraitist of his day, had he exerted himself more. His most characterful portraits include two of Sir Isaac Newton, portrayed in the last years of his life, in his own hair (1725; versions RSA and Trinity College, Cambridge) and wigged (1726; RSA); the painter George Lambert (untraced; engraved by Faber, 1727); the sculptor John Michael Rysbrack (c.1728; NPG); the poet James Thomson (Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh); and the eccentric Newmarket trainer Tregonwell Frampton (c.1725; Christies, 27 May 1988). By contrast, many of Vanderbank's more formal portraits of ‘persons of Quality’, male or female, betray a lack of rapport with his sitters and a tendency to rely on stock poses, sometimes directly derived from Van Dyck. Vertue noted that he (perhaps regularly) used the services of the drapery painter Joseph van Aken. Waterhouse considered that Vanderbank's masterpiece was the large full-length of Queen Caroline (1736; Goodwood House, Chichester, Sussex). At least thirty of his portraits were engraved, by John Faber junior, George White, and others. Vanderbank painted three allegorical subjects incorporating an equestrian portrait of George I for the decoration of the staircase at 11 Bedford Row, London, and contributed The Apotheosis, or, Death of the King (1727; Christies, 15 November 1996) to the series of ten paintings by various artists (including Chéron and Pieter Angelis) engraved in 1728, advertised by John Bowles as Ten Prints of the Reign of King Charles the First.

As draughtsman and illustrator, Vanderbank demonstrates a verve and originality lacking in his portraiture. A series of pen, ink, and wash drawings of horses and riders being trained in the exercises of haute école, perhaps drawn in the early 1720s when the artist ‘was himself a Disciple in our Riding-Schools’, was engraved and published by Joseph Sympson in 1729 as Twenty Five Actions of the Manage Horse; these drawings (now dispersed in various collections including the Tate collection, the British Museum, London, the Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, California, and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut) were widely copied and pirated. In 1723 Vanderbank was commissioned by the publishers J. and R. Tonson to illustrate Don Quixote, in the original Spanish; this eventually appeared as a lavish four-volume quarto edition in 1738, with sixty-eight engraved plates after Vanderbank. This project, for which Vanderbank's initial designs were preferred over Hogarth's, appears to have preoccupied Vanderbank, perhaps almost empathetically, for the remainder of his life, resulting in three sets of drawings: first sketched (collection British Museum), then finished for the engraver's use (collection Pierpont Morgan Library, New York), then drawn afresh, elaborated, and fully finished (collection British Museum), as well as a series of some thirty-five small freely painted oil panels (various museum and private collections; see Hammelmann, 3–15). Vanderbank also illustrated or designed frontispieces for various volumes of plays. Two self-portraits in pen and ink are known (NPG, dated 1738; and V&A). Vanderbank died at his home in Holles Street on 23 December 1739, aged forty-five, survived by his wife. Vertue noted that ‘he left no children behind him by this wooman’ (Vertue, Note books, 3.98).

Judy Egerton DNB