Joseph Highmore was born in London on 13 June 1692. He was educated at merchant Taylors' School. His father failed to get him started as a painter as pupil of his uncle, Thomas, who had been appointed Sergeant Painter to Queen Anne in 1702, and he was articled to an attorney in 1707. In 1713 he enrolled in Kneller's Academy of Painting on Great Queen Street, and, after his articles expired, set himself up in 1715 as a portrait painter in the City. In 1716 he married Susanna Hiller, with whom he had two children.
Highmore was a founding member of Chéron and Vanderbank's Saint Martin's Land Academy in 1720. In 1724 he moved to Lincoln's Inn Fields, began to paint sitters of greater distinction than City merchants, and executed drawings for a folio of engravings of the installation of the Knights of Bath, published in 1730, which led to aristocratic commissions. He traveled via the Low Countries to see the princely collections at Düsseldorf in 1732; he visited Paris in 1734, partly to study contemporary art. His most rococo production was a series of twelve paintings illustrating Richardson's Pamela, engraved in 1745. He also painted biblical subjects, and some landscapes.
Highmore maintained his busy portrait practice without studio assistance, executing the draperies himself and painting the hands from life; the heads were often completed in one sitting. He exhibited at the first exhibition of the Society of Artists in 1760 but retired in 1762, selling his collection of paintings and going to live with his daughter and son-in-law in Canterbury.
A freemason and nonconformist, Highmore seems to have moved in learned and literary rather than artistic circles. He was himself a writer, chiefly in his retirement, of pamphlets and articles on varied subjects, including perspective. He died in Canterbury on 3 March 1780, at the age of eighty-seven.
[Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 116-117.]
Johnston, Elizabeth. Paintings by Joseph Highmore 1692-1780. Exh. cat. Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, London, 1963.
Johnston, Elizabeth. "Joseph Highmore's Paris Journal, 1734." Walpole Society 42 (1970): 61-104.