Houston, Richard (1721/2–1775), mezzotint engraver, was born in Dublin, possibly the son of Richard Houston, a baker, and his wife, Rachel. He was apprenticed to John Brooks (qv), who had returned to Dublin from London in 1741, having learned the techniques of mezzotint. Like his fellow apprentices James McArdell (qv), Charles Spooner (qv) and Richard Purcell, Houston showed a natural ability and talent for this difficult subtle art, and contributed to its revival. When Brooks left Dublin again in 1746 for London, Houston followed soon after, and some of his first plates produced in London carry the address ‘near Drummonds at Charing Cross’. From there in the 1750s he executed a series of portraits of statesmen after William Hoare RA, including William Pitt, 1st earl of Chatham, and achieved much success with his beautiful fine mezzotints after the paintings of Rembrandt. These include Man with a knife, The pen cutter and The philosopher in contemplation.
His success attracted more of his colleagues from Dublin, with his friend Spooner arriving in 1752, followed a little later by Purcell, moves that led to Irish domination in the art of mezzotint in London, from 1750 to 1775. Unfortunately Houston's fondness for an undisciplined, extravagant lifestyle soon led to his loss of independence when he fell into the debt of the printsellers, particularly Robert Sayer (1724–94). Sayer had him jailed in Fleet prison (the debtors’ jail), so that he could find him when he needed him to work. From 1758 on he did not produce his own prints. Despite his misfortunes Houston maintained high standards in his work and executed for Sayers some very fine mezzotints after Joshua Reynolds, Catherine Read, Rembrandt and other masters. He eventually freed himself from debt and worked for Carrington Bowles from 1774 until his death. He died 4 August 1775 in Hatton Street, London; the same year marked the end of Irish pre-eminence in mezzotint engraving.