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Dighton, Denis (1791–1827), military painter, was born in London on 16 October 1791, the son of , actor, caricaturist, and printseller, and Catherine Caroline. Although baptized Mark James Dennis Dighton (at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, on 24 November 1791), he seems to have used only the last forename, spelt Denis, during his adult life. His half-brother, Robert Dighton jun. (c.1786–1865), and his younger brother, Richard (1795/6–1880), were also known as watercolourists and printmakers. In 1807 Denis became a student at the Royal Academy Schools. Then, having come to the attention of the prince of Wales early in his career, he was commissioned in the 90th regiment (Perthshire volunteers) on 11 July 1811, through royal patronage. However, he resigned not long afterwards, on 17 March 1812, in order to marry Phoebe Earl (b. c.1790), flower painter and daughter of the portraitist, James Earl (1761–1796). They were married on 22 June 1812 at St Pancras church, and settled in London, initially at Denis's father's address, 4 Spring Gardens, Westminster, London.

In 1813 Dighton may have visited the British army on campaign in the Peninsular War, where his brother Robert was serving with the 38th (1st Staffordshire) regiment. He produced a number of fine watercolours depicting Spanish patriot leaders and their men, signed and dated that year and apparently drawn from life, one of which is inscribed ‘from a sketch from life at Cadiz’ (Royal Collection). Robert was also wounded at the sortie from Bayonne, France, on 14 April 1814 and there is a watercolour portrait of General Thouvenot, governor of Bayonne, signed by Dighton and dated 1814 (Royal Collection). In 1814 he exhibited at the Royal Academy The Storming of San Sebastian, 31st August [1813] (Leith Hall, Aberdeenshire).

Appointed military draughtsman to the prince regent in 1815, Dighton painted the dramatic Battle of Orthez (exh. RA, 1815; Plas Newydd, Anglesey) which the prince sent as a present to the marquess of Anglesey on 27 July. Anglesey also acquired Dighton's large canvas celebrating Napoleon's final defeat on 18 June 1815, The Battle of Waterloo; the General Advance of the British Lines (exh. RA, 1816; Plas Newydd, Anglesey), based on the artist's own studies of the topography. Dighton had visited the battlefield only days after the event and made nine studies in watercolour (Royal Collection), from which he also produced two battle paintings in watercolour (NAM). On 7 November 1816 the prince paid Dighton £50 for a smaller version of Lord Anglesey's Waterloo painting (Royal Collection), and in the following year he purchased The Battle of Waterloo; the Charge of the Second Brigade of Cavalry, depicting Sergeant Ewart of the Scots Greys capturing the eagle of the French 45th regiment (exh. RA, 1817; Royal Collection).

Between 1811 and 1825 Dighton exhibited seventeen pictures at the Royal Academy, the first of which was The Lace Maker. Thereafter, his work was mainly military, either battle paintings or detailed uniform studies, although he also painted the notable naval work, The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, Fall of Nelson (NMM). When the prince regent succeeded to the throne, Dighton painted a large watercolour, The Coronation Banquet Champion (1821), and in 1822 he accompanied the king on his visit to Scotland, where he made drawings of the ceremonies (all Royal Collection). However, according to Redgrave, ‘he lost his access to his royal patron, and … the chief source of his income was stopped’ (Redgrave, Artists, 126). This is said to have affected his health and eventually his sanity. Dighton's wife took him to Brittany, where he died at St Servan, on 8 August 1827. Phoebe Dighton painted fruit and flower pieces influenced by Dutch masters, and was appointed flower painter to Queen Adelaide. Between 1820 and 1835 she exhibited sixteen pictures at the Academy, and eight at the British Institution. In 1835 Ackermann published Relics of Shakespeare, from Drawings by Mrs Denis Dighton. Following this, she married Peter McIntyre and, between 1841 and 1854, exhibited a further three pictures under her second married name.

Dighton was an accomplished watercolourist and graphic artist, and the Royal Collection holds some 243 watercolours and sixty-seven preliminary pencil drawings by him, all depicting European military uniform between about 1811 and 1822, which are generally very accurate. There are also four indian-ink drawings in the British Museum's department of prints and drawings, which were engraved to illustrate Maria, Lady Callcott's, works on Chile and Brazil. He also etched and lithographed several plates of military subjects and portraits of Russian leaders, among which is Denis Davidoff, the Black Captain (1814).

Jenny Spencer-Smith

Sources  

Redgrave, Artists · Graves, RA exhibitors · A. E. H. Miller and N. P. Dawnay, Military drawings and paintings in the collection of her majesty the queen, 2 vols. (1966–70) · O. Millar, The later Georgian pictures in the collection of her majesty the queen, 2 vols. (1969) · D. Rose, Life, times and recorded works of Robert Dighton (1752–1814), actor, artist and printseller and three of his artist sons (1981) · A. Wilson, A dictionary of British military painters (1972) · IGI · H. M. Hake, ‘Dighton caricatures’, The Print Collectors' Quarterly, 13/1 and 2 (April 1926), 137 ff., 237–47 · administration of Robert Dighton's estate, TNA: PRO, IR 26/445, fols. 99–199 · statement of service of Robert Dighton, jun., 1829, TNA: PRO, WO 25/756, fol. 92 · Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research · L. Lambourne and J. Hamilton, eds., British watercolours in the Victoria and Albert Museum (1980) · parish register, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, 24 Nov 1791, City Westm. AC [baptism]