Sir Martin Archer Shee

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

« Henry and John Sheares, United Irishmen | Index | Rev. Nicholas Sheehy »

Shee, Sir Martin Archer, President of the Royal Academy, F.R.S., was born in Dublin, 20th December 1769. His mother died a few months after his birth; his father became blind, and was consequently reduced in circumstances, and had to retire to a cottage near the Dargle, where many of young Shee's early years were spent. He evinced a taste for drawing, was admitted to the schools of the Royal Dublin Society, and before long was enabled to support himself in Dublin by painting portraits. In 1788, after his father's death, he removed to London, where he studied with the utmost diligence, Edmund Burke's personal introduction to Sir Joshua Reynolds procuring for him admission to the schools of the Royal Academy. His first picture was exhibited in 1789; in 1798 he was elected an Associate, and in 1800 a Member of the Academy. His reputation as a fashionable portrait painter soon became widely extended. He married, and established himself in a fine mansion.

On the death of Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1830, he was elected President of the Academy, and he was knighted in the same year. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and other honours were showered upon him, to which Catholics in England were little accustomed. Ottley, in his Dictionary of Painters, observes: "It would be a mistake to attribute Sir Martin Shee's success in his profession, and above all the high official position to which he was elected, to his merit as an artist. The latter, at least, maybe more truly assigned as a tribute to his literary attainments .. and to his courteous manners, combined with certain gifts in diplomacy, which qualified him in an eminent degree to act as the champion [of the Royal Academy]. If he did not achieve anything great as a painter, he was always ready, to use his own words, 'to break a lance with the vandalism of the day.'" He wrote several poetical pieces of minor merit, and two novels, Harry Calverley, and Old Court, in which were embodied many of his early reminiscences of the neighbourhood of Bray.

Lord Holland said of his inaugural address as President of the Academy: "I never heard a better speech." "And I," added Lord Grey, "never heard so good a one." Sir Martin was instrumental in procuring the charter for the Royal Hibernian Academy. As might be supposed, he was on intimate terms with many of the great men of the time — Grattan and Curran, as well as Englishmen and foreigners of wider fame. A Civil List pension of £200 a year was conferred upon him shortly before his death, which took place at Brighton, 19th August 1850, in his 81st year. He was buried in Brighton Cemetery. Two of his paintings, "The Infant Bacchus," and a portrait of Morton, the dramatist, are hung in the National Gallery in London. He had six children, all of whom survived him.


16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

277a. Painters and Engravers, Dictionary of Recent and Living: Henry Ottley. London, 1875.

302. Shee, Sir Martin Archer, Life: Martin A. Shee. 2 vols. London, 1860.

« Henry and John Sheares, United Irishmen | Index | Rev. Nicholas Sheehy »

Search Library Ireland


My Lady of the Chimney CornerMy Lady of the Chimney Corner

A memorable and moving story of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity. In 1863 the author, Alexander Irvine, was born into dire poverty, the child of a 'mixed' marriage. His parents had survived the ravages of the famine years, but want and hunger were never to be too far away from their door. Irvine was ultimately destined to leave Ireland for America and to become a successful minister and author. He learned to read and write when he had left his home in Antrim far behind, but he came to realize that the greatest lessons he had received in life were at his mother's knee. My Lady of the Chimney Corner is the depiction of an existence that would be unthinkable in modern Ireland; but, more than that, it is the author's loving tribute to his mother, Anna, who taught him to look at the world through clean spectacles. ISBN 978-1-910375-32-7. USA orders. The book is also available as a Kindle download (UK) and Kindle download (US).

Popular Rhymes and Sayings of IrelandPopular Rhymes and Sayings of Ireland

In Popular Rhymes and Sayings of Ireland (first published in 1924) John J. Marshall examines the origin of a variety of rhymes and sayings that were at one time in vogue around different parts of the country, including those which he recalled from his own childhood in County Tyrone. Numerous riddles, games and charms are recounted, as well as the traditions of the ‘Wren Boys’ and Christmas Rhymers. Other chapters describe the war cries of prominent Irish septs and the names by which Ireland has been personified in literature over the centuries. The book is also available as a Kindle download.


Annals of the Famine in Ireland

Annals of the Famine in Ireland

Annals of the Famine in Ireland, by Asenath Nicholson, still has the power to shock and sadden even though the events described are ever-receding further into the past. When you read, for example, of the poor widowed mother who was caught trying to salvage a few potatoes from her landlord’s field, and what the magistrate discovered in the pot in her cabin, you cannot help but be appalled and distressed.

The ebook is available for download in .mobi (Kindle), .epub (iBooks, etc.) and .pdf formats. For further information on the book and author see details ».

Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger

Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger

This book, the prequel to Annals of the Famine in Ireland cannot be recommended highly enough to those interested in Irish social history. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, travelled from her native America to assess the condition of the poor in Ireland during the mid 1840s. Refusing the luxury of hotels and first class travel, she stayed at a variety of lodging-houses, and even in the crude cabins of the very poorest. Not to be missed!

The ebook is available for download in .mobi (Kindle), .epub (iBooks, etc.) and .pdf formats. For further information on the book and author see details ».

The Scotch-Irish in America

The Scotch-Irish in America

Henry Ford Jones' book, first published in 1915 by Princeton University, is a classic in its field. It covers the history of the Scotch-Irish from the first settlement in Ulster to the American Revolutionary period and the foundation of the country.

The ebook is available for download in .mobi (Kindle), .epub (iBooks, etc.) and .pdf formats. For further information on the book and author see details ».


letterJoin our mailing list to receive updates on new content on Library, our latest ebooks, and more.

You won’t be inundated with emails! — we'll just keep you posted periodically — about once a monthish — on what's happening with the library.