Spooner, Charles (d. 1767), mezzotint engraver, was probably born in Co. Wexford between 1725 and 1730. As a young man he trained in Dublin under John Brooks (qv) sometime during the period 1741–6. Brooks was a pioneer of mezzotint engraving in Ireland and England and employed a number of other talented young assistants in Dublin during the 1740s, including James McArdell (qv), Richard Houston (qv), and Richard Purcell. In 1746 Brooks moved to London with McArdell and Houston; Spooner joined them in 1752. Between 1749 and 1752 Spooner is known to have produced a number of engravings while living in Dublin, including portraits of three key contemporary Dublin figures: Samuel Madden (qv) (based on the John Van Nost (qv) sculpture at the Dublin Society), Thomas Prior (qv), and Anthony Malone (qv). Spooner also scraped a mezzotint copy of the celebrated William Hogarth self-portrait in 1749. During these years Spooner signed his work ‘C. Spooner fecit Dubl.’ or ‘CS’ and sold impressions of plates at the premises of the printers Thomas Silcock and Matthew Williams in Dublin. Though Spooner is best known as a mezzotint portrait engraver, there is evidence during his Dublin years that he could turn his hand to landscape. Richard Barton published a perspective view of Lower Lough Lene, Co. Kerry, by Spooner in 1751.
While in London from 1752 Spooner worked closely with his friend and colleague McArdell. It was common practice for engravers at that time to copy each other's plates or reuse the same plate and make alterations to the dress or pose of the sitter. McArdell was the most talented of the Dublin group of ‘scrapers’ and Spooner was employed to make copies of his most popular prints. This might explain why the number of known signed engravings by Spooner is relatively low (43) compared with McArdell (230). The bulk of Spooner's surviving signed work dates from the period 1760–65, which coincides with the height of the craze for portrait engravings. Many of the engravings are based on well known portraits by Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Hudson, and Francis Cotes. Spooner reproduced images of the actor David Garrick, the duke of Cumberland, Queen Charlotte, and other members of the royal family. He also scraped engravings of historical and popular characters based on pictures by Rembrandt and other old masters, with titles such as ‘The spendthrift’, ‘The Jewish rabbi’ and ‘Cleopatra’.
Early biographers, including Pasquin and Strickland, have all used the epithets ‘wayward’, ‘capricious’, or ‘intemperate’ to describe Spooner. Houston, another member of the Dublin group of ‘scrapers’, was also thought to be unruly and extravagant and was sent to a debtors’ jail. One anecdote describes how a wager between Spooner and another friend led to a scuffle ‘in which Spooner and Gwim [another Irish artist] rolled down the stairs’ (Strickland, i, 421). Alcohol may have contributed to Spooner's early death (aged between 40 and 50) in 1767.
Spooner's surviving engravings demonstrate that he was a sensitive and highly skilled copyist, with the potential to take over from McArdell as one of the leading mezzotint portrait engravers working in Dublin and London. But Spooner seemed to lack initiative and enterprise and was content to rework the portrait images that McArdell had already used. An alcohol-fuelled lifestyle must also have limited his ability to cope with long hours scraping tiny marks off a roughened mezzotint plate. McArdell's premature death in 1765 must have come as a bitter blow, both professionally and personally, and Spooner died just two years later on 5 December 1767. He was apparently buried, at his own request, near the grave of McArdell in Hampstead churchyard. Examples of Spooner's work can be found in the British Museum, London, and the NGI.