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A pupil of Richard Cosway, Kirk exhibited the first of 25 works at the Royal Academy in 1785, and created many famous engravings based either upon his own work or works by, amongst others, Angelica Kauffmann, Richard Westall or Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Although he illustrated James Thomson's The Seasons in 1793, he was employed most consistently by Cooke for his editions of celebrated works of literature. Cooke's Pocket Edition of English Poets (1796-8) was especially popular, and Kirk's illustrations impressed many of his contemporaries. Edward Dayes said of him: 'He passed like a meteor through the region of art'.
Original drawings by him are rare, often in oval format, and owing much to the influence of Kauffman. The draughtsmanship is of the highest quality and some his pictures are described as 'ornamented' by R. W. Satchwell, who occasionally drew the surrounds.
However, his promising career was cut short through illness. Working to the end, he died in 1797 of consumption (i.e. tuberculosis), having exhibited his final works at the Royal Academy (Evening and A Dream) the previous year. His last known address was 8, Judd Place West, New Road, London.
- Book Illustrators in 18th Century England by H. Hammelmann (Yale University Press, 1975)
- A Century of British Painters by Samuel and Richard Redgrave (Phaidon Press)