Despite Le Piper's reputation as one of the most perceptive draughtsmen of his time, very few drawings by him survive. Le Piper was the son of a wealthy merchant from Kent who was trained for business or academia. However, 'his genius leading him wholly to design... drawing took up all his time, and all his thoughts; and being of a gay, facetious humour, his manner was humorous or comical.' He was especially fond of drawing caricatures and had a reputation for liveliness of character, even when not drawing from life. Bainbrigg Buckeridge noted in his biographical account of Le Piper published in 1706: 'he would, by a transient view of any remarkable face of man or woman that he met in the street, retain the likeness so exact in his memory, that when he expressed it in the draught, the spectator, who knew the original, would have thought the person had sat several times for it.'
Although chiefly aligned to the tradition of Dutch drollery or tavern scenes, Le Piper's drawings also owe something to Leonardo's caricature profiles. He used his wealth to travel widely in Europe to learn about art, and Buckeridge reported his admiration for Agostino Carracci and Rembrandt, among others. Hogarth's first biographer acknowledged the impact of Le Piper's work, and Le Piper's paintings of scenes from Samuel Butler's Hudibras (four of which are now at the Tate) may well have informed Hogarth's own treatment of the subject. Butler's mockery of religious zealotry is reflected in Le Piper's interest in sketching preachers. The present characterful drawing captures a surly looking preacher, he was evidently a familiar figure to Le Piper as he appears in another drawing, now in the British Museum, which was originally in the collection of Sir Hans Sloane. Our drawing was originally in the collection of Hugh Howard. Howard had trained as a painter in Rome, but was appointed Keeper of State Papers and Paymaster of the Royal Palaces from 1726. He held a high reputation as a connoisseur, and advised Duke of Devonshire and Earl of Pembroke on their collections.
- Four are at the British Museum and six at the Yale Center for British Art; others were sold at Christie's on 2 March 1971, lot 50.
- Bainbrigg Buckeridge, The Art of Painting and the Lives of the Painters…, London, 1706, pp.409-10.
- Edward Croft-Murray and Paul Hulton, Catalogue of British Drawings: volume one XVI and XVII Centuries, London, 1960, pp.424-5.