Daniel Maclise

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Maclise, Daniel, R.A., a distinguished artist, was born at Cork, 25th January 1811. He exhibited artistic abilities of no common order at an early age; and after passing some time in a mercantile office, his parents yielded to his wishes to be allowed to study at the Cork Academy. There he benefited by the splendid series of casts from the antique, modelled under the superintendence of Canova, which form the great art treasure of Cork, and have had no little influence in fostering artistic taste in that city. His progress was rapid, and his first commission, illustrations to Crofton Croker's Fairy Legends, attracted considerable attention. The success of a surreptitious likeness taken of Scott during his visit to Cork in 1825, induced Maclise to open a portrait studio, where his skill and rapidity of execution brought him ready customers at thirty shillings a portrait.

Occasional holiday rambles in search of the picturesque in different parts of Ireland, afforded scope for the exercise of his talents in landscape drawing. In July 1827 he left Cork, and prosecuted his studies at the Royal Academy in London, where one by one he gained every honour the schools of the Academy had to bestow. Before long the sale of his portraits and sketches enabled him to set up a comfortable establishment, and his success gained for him the entree of the best literary and artistic society of the metropolis. In 1830 some of his pictures were shown at the Royal Academy. His "All Hallow Eve" was exhibited in 1833. A friendship formed about this period with Dickens and Forster continued firm all through life. In 1837 he was elected an associate, and in 1840 a Royal Academician. Thenceforward his career was one of unbroken prosperity.

Several of the historical frescoes in the new Houses of Parliament were executed by him. For that of the "Meeting of Wellington and Blucher after Waterloo" he received £3,500. Maclise was never married. The death of his favourite sister Isabella, in April 1865, was a severe blow to his sensitive nature. His last great work was "The Earls of Desmond and Ormond," which appeared in the Academy exhibition of 1870. After a lengthened illness, Maclise died 25th April 1870, aged 59, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, in the vault with his father, mother, brother, and sister. Mr. Maclise was more than six feet in height; his face was eminently prepossessing; his eyes large and expressive of intelligence.

He was generous and amiable, unobtrusive and tolerant, appreciative of the talents of others, and especially of younger artists. The Biographie Générale says of him: "He has succeeded in every branch of art, from caricature to fresco. He generally selects familiar or semi-historical subjects, which modern taste prefers to more ambitious art. All his productions exhibit the false and exaggerated mannerism characteristic of the English school; but they possess an indescribable finish and touch, a harmonious treatment, expressive heads, and pieces of true and well-rendered art." The New York Nation, criticising his work, says: "The complete, deep-seated unreality of these and all other Maclises gives one a pitying feeling for the nation whose historical painting he long represented almost alone... Nothing can strike a falser note than Maclise's elaborate machines, with their strained drama, their unpronounceable horrors in colour, their contented opacity and obtuseness of shadow." There is every fear that the mannerism here spoken of, and which was a striking characteristic, especially in his later works, will prevent their being lastingly held in esteem. In his portraits of celebrities in Frazer's Magazine, and in his designs for Moore's Melodies and other illustrated works, he has been, perhaps, more happy than in his paintings.

Sources

34. Biographie Générale. 46 vols. Paris, 1855-'66. An interleaved copy, copiously noted by the late Dr. Thomas Fisher, Assistant Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin.

227. Maclise, Daniel, R.A., Memoir: W. J. O'Driscoll. London, 1871.

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