William Mulready

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Mulready, William, R.A., was born at Ennis, it is said in 1785 (probably much earlier).[14] While a mere lad he went to England and was introduced to Banks, the sculptor, who took him into his studio, and set him to work drawing from his casts. When fourteen he was admitted a student at the Royal Academy, and before long gained the silver palette in the Society of Arts' competition. For some years he earned a living by teaching drawing, and designing illustrations for works published by William Godwin. He gradually won his way as a painter till he took a foremost place, and became a Royal Academician.

The following is taken from the Art Journal: "William Mulready began life as an art-student; all through his career — that is, for a period extending over sixty years — he confessed himself still a learner; and when death called him somewhat suddenly from his easel.. he felt that he had not even yet done all which art was capable of achieving, though everyone else was convinced that he had long since accomplished the end. This was the great secret of his unvarying success — his motto was 'progression'; and year after year, even to the closing act of his professional life, one could always detect in his works some evidence of more matured powers of thought or of execution. And no wonder, since he caused his pictures to grow slowly under his hand, allowing sometimes years to elapse from the time when he sketched his first ideas on the canvas till they appeared in a complete form on the wall of the exhibition room. He could much more easily please the public, and even the critics, than he could satisfy himself... There is nothing in the whole range of Dutch or Flemish art that can be brought into comparison with most of them for truth of drawing, elaborate finish, and splendour of colouring; it has been well said that, as a painter, Mulready's art is perfection.' By intense study, and by the display of consummate technical powers, he triumphed over all the greatest difficulties of his art. And if we look beyond the mere externals, so to speak, of his paintings, into the materials of which the several subjects are composed, what evidence we find of his intimate acquaintance with the heart and mind-how much of humour, and not unfrequently of pathos too!.. Note, too, the refined character of his faces... He was a lover of his species, and would not hold even the youngsters up to ridicule, though he set forth their humours, both good and evil."

He was of a commanding figure, and handsome in old age as in youth. His features were finely cut, his eyes bright, the mouth severe. But few particulars are given of his life. His early marriage at seventeen proved unhappy; and he and his wife lived separately the latter part of their lives. He died, 7th July 1863, aged, presumably, 78, and was buried at Kensal Green, London.

Sources

14. Art Journal, The

40. Biographical Division of English Cyclopaedia, with Supplement: Charles Knight, 7 vols. London, 1856-'72.

241. Men of the Time. London, 1856-'75.

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