Portrait of the Great Phiz

Portrait of the Great Phiz

Browne Hablot Knight

Dates: 1815 - 1882

Profession: Art

Address: 239 Ladbroke Grove, W10

Dates at address: 1874 - 1880

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Hablot Browne, nicknamed Phiz, has a mysterious family history. Officially son of William and Katherine Browne, family legend states he was actually the illegitimate son of their eldest daughter Kate and her fiancé Nicolas Hablot, a Napoleonic cavalry officer. Hablot married another woman and William fled to America after embezzling funds, so Katherine raised him as her son. Early promise led his brother-in-law, Elhanan Bicknell, to sponsor his apprenticeship as a line-engraver. In 1840 he married Susannah Reynolds and they had nine surviving children, all artistic.

Bored of copying other’s work, he quit his apprenticeship and set up a studio with fellow student Robert Young. While illustrating a pamphlet he met Charles Dickens who commissioned him to illustrate his Pickwick Papers, followed by ten other novels. Phiz’s work was so popular he produced an estimated 3660 pictures in his lifetime. A suspected stroke in 1868 left him badly disabled. Incredibly, he produced several more images after teaching himself to draw by holding a pencil between two fingers, as his thumbs did not work, and moving his whole body.

After moving to Kensington in 1874 his good friend Luke Fildes tried to help, persuading Browne to apply for a state pension, which was refused, then successfully persuading the Royal Academy to come to his aid. Throughout everything Browne remained optimistic and cheerful. Using his new pension he moved his family to Sussex where he died in 1882.

Related records:

Blue PlaqueSir Samuel Luke Fildes – Art