Poynter was the son of the architect Ambrose Poynter. He was born in Paris, though his parents returned to Britain soon after. He was educated at Brighton College and Ipswich School, but left school early for reasons of ill health, spending winters in Madeira and Rome. In 1853 he met Frederick Leighton in Rome, who made a great impression on the 17-year-old Poynter. On his return to London he studied at Leigh’s academy in Newman Street and the Royal Academy Schools, before going to Paris to study in the studio of the classicist painter Charles Gleyre where James McNeill Whistler and George du Maurier were fellow-students.
He became best known for his large historical paintings such as Israel in Egypt (1867, his first great success), followed by an enormous mosaic in 1869, as seen in the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster, (Houses of Parliament), depicting St George and the Dragon entitled St George for England Visit of the Queen of Sheba (1871–75) and King Solomon (1890).
Poynter held a number of official posts: he was the first Slade Professor at University College London from 1871 to 1875, principal of the National Art Training School from 1875 to 1881 and director of the National Gallery from 1894 to 1904 (overseeing the opening of the Tate Gallery). He became a Royal Academician in 1876. In 1896, on the death of Sir John Millais, Poynter was elected President of the Royal Academy. He received a knighthood in the same year and an honorary degree from Cambridge University in 1898. He was made a baronet in 1902.
In 1866 Poynter married the famous beauty Agnes MacDonald, daughter of the Rev G B MacDonald of Wolverhampton, and they had three children. Her sister Georgiana married Edward Burne-Jones, the famous artist; her sister Alice was the mother of the poet and author Rudyard Kipling; and her sister Louisa was the mother of three-times-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Stanley Baldwin
His old school, Brighton College held an exhibition of Poynter’s paintings and drawings entitled ‘Life at Arms Length’ in its Burstow Gallery in November–December 1995.
It appears from the subjects of his paintings (King Solomon and King Solomon’s Temple) and his association with Kipling that he was a Freemason. Prints of his painting “The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon” are to be found in many Masonic Lodges around the world.
via Edward Poynter