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His colourful materials: University acquires 18th-Century stained glass painter’s notebook

Posted on 13 December 2019

The University of York has acquired a notebook belonging to celebrated glass artist William Peckitt (1731-95) depicting some of his techniques and recipes for colour mixing.

Pickett's self portrait in glass. Credit: York Glaziers Trust Peckitt's self portrait in glass. Credit: York Glaziers Trust

The book appears to chronicle a teenage William Peckitt using a combination of study and experiment to learn his craft. It is the earliest surviving work in his hand.

Peckitt, who was from York, went on to paint windows of multi-coloured light across the country and counted George III among his patrons. The vivid colours of his work can been seen on either side of the south transept in York Minster.

Rare opportunity

The University, supported by the Terry Trust, the York Glaziers’ Trust and Friends of the Library and Archive, seized the rare opportunity to save the book for the City following a sale at auction over the summer.

Conservation experts at the University’s Borthwick Institute for Archives will restore the 90 page, hand-stitched vellum notebook before digitising its contents and making them freely available to the public.

The information on historical glass painting materials and techniques contained within Peckitt’s penmanship will be of vital importance to an understanding of his approach to his craft, and for modern-day glass restoration work.

Self-taught

Sarah Brown from the Department of History of Art at the University of York, said: “This extraordinary book contains Peckitt’s notes on what he was learning as a young artist. He writes about how to paint details including faces, animals, fruits, flowers and the folds of drapery. He considers thicknesses and textures, shading and light - what colours should be used and how paints should be mixed.

“Peckitt was the third son of a glove maker and how he trained as a glass artist has always been a mystery. His claim to be self-taught, stoutly defended after his death by his daughter, has been met with scepticism, but, while more research is needed, the notebook seems at first glance to bear that claim out.”

Peckitt was born in Husthwaite near Easingwold and was baptised in York in 1731. He died on 14 October 1795 and is buried in the church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, York.

Keeping tradition alive

He penned the book in the mid-1740s before going on to become the most famous glass painter in the country.

Glass painting was not as popular during Peckitt’s lifetime as it had been in the medieval period or would become in Victorian times and the artist is credited with keeping the tradition alive during a period of cultural decline.

Sarah Brown added: “This book offers a first glimpse of Peckitt as a young person. Some of the notes are in Latin and French and discuss techniques he went on to become well- known for, such as miniature painting in stained glass. Peckitt also jotted down notes on the chemistry of glass as well details that point to his wider scientific interests, such as the diameter of the earth and the velocity of its spin.

“Peckitt’s mature work explored the potential of glass and colour to convey stories through a combination of the arts and sciences and Peckitt’s juvenile notebook reflects his early passion for all three.”

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