From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913
Was the sixth child of William Chinnery, an East India merchant of Cuddalore, Madras, and No. 4 Gough Square, London, who was himself an amateur artist and was the "Mr. Chinnery, jun., Gough Square, Fleet Street," who exhibited a "Portrait of a Gentleman" with the Free Society of Artists in 1764, and a "Portrait in Crayons" in 1766. The "Portrait of a Gentleman" was that of his father, William Chinnery, the author of a book on Writing and Drawing,* who died in Gough Square on 29th December, 1791, aged 84. George was born in his father's house in Gough Square, on 5th January, 1774. From an early age he showed evidence of artistic talent, and on leaving school he, with the approval of his parents, devoted himself to art. In 1791 his "Portrait of his Father" was accepted and hung in the Royal Academy, and in the following year he showed three portraits, and was becoming known as a miniature painter. In 1793 he sent from 1 Sackville Street, Piccadilly, a portrait of himself and one of a lady (Miss Porter), and in 1794 he exhibited twelve portraits, probably miniatures and drawings. Pasquin, in his "A Liberal Critique on the Exhibition for 1794," says, "Mr. Chinnery has some fine portraits, No. 380 [twelve anonymous portraits], which highly pleased me; among the budding candidates for fame this rising young artist is the most prominent. His progress has been rapid almost beyond example; he has rather adopted a new style of painting, somewhat after the manner of Cosway."
In 1797, Chinnery, then aged 23, went to Ireland to paint portraits of Sir Brodrick Chinnery and his family, to whom he was almost certainly related, though the connection has not been traced. In Dublin he found ample employment for his brush in painting portraits both in oil and miniature, and he helped to organize the exhibition held in 1800 by the newly-formed "Society of Artists of Ireland" in Allen's rooms in Dame Street, the first exhibition held since 1780. To this he sent one large subject-picture, "Satan's arrival on the confines of Light," eight portraits in oils, including "Thomas Whaley," "the Hon. Mrs. Whaley," and "the Countess of Clare," and three portraits in crayons. In the following year he contributed eleven portraits and landscapes to the exhibition held in the Parliament House, including the large portrait of a lady now in the Royal Dublin Society's House in Kildare Street; but only three examples of his work were in the exhibition of 1802. Commenting on the painter's works exhibited in 1801, the writer of an anonymous MS. "Journal" preserved in the Royal Irish Academy (24 c. 14-15) says: "The manner of this painter possesses a peculiarity which would enable one anywhere to distinguish his works. They have a strong expression of original genius, bold but always either palpably unfinished, or with as little as possible; it appears to be his wish to paint everything in an uncommon manner, and of course to attract the attention which would otherwise be directed to more finished productions of the common walk."
Chinnery married in 1799 Marianna, daughter of James Vigne, a jeweller of 27 College Green, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of James Eustace of Castlemore, County Carlow; and he resided in his father-in-law's house after the marriage. But the union did not prove a harmonious one; perhaps Chinnery's unstable and eccentric character rendered him unsuitable or domestic life, and after two children had been born to him he left his wife with her relations in Dublin, and in 1802 went to London. Partly, perhaps, to free himself from his wife he resolved to try his fortune in the East, where several English and Irish painters were then reaping a rich harvest, and where members of his family resided and had a factory at Cuddalore. He sailed from England for Madras in June, 1802.
Five years later, early in 1807, he went to Calcutta, and there, with occasional visits to the courts of the native princes whose portraits he painted, he remained for twenty years. During this time he was joined by his wife, son and daughter. The son, John Eustace Chinnery, who was born in Dublin in September, 1801, died unmarried in 1822, and was buried at Berhampore; the daughter, Matilda, born in 1800, married in India James Cowley Browne. She died on 21st March, 1879, leaving numerous descendants; Chinnery's work in India included portraits of the leading men in Madras and Calcutta, as well as those of many of the native princes, and an enormous number of pictures and drawings, chiefly water-colour and pencil sketches, of native life and scenery. A number of these are in the British Museum, while several thousands are in private collections. Among his portraits were those of Lord Hastings, Lord Minto, Sir Henry Russell and Sir Francis MacNaughton, and of many native princes which have never been traced.
Although he was making a large income his prodigality and extravagant living brought him into financial difficulties, and he left India in 1827, unaccompanied by his wife, and proceeded to China. He took up his residence at first in Canton, but soon moved to Macao where he passed the rest of his life. In his new surroundings he worked with the same industry as he had done in India, painting numerous portraits and delighting in the portrayal of Chinese life and scenery, which afforded subjects for his brush in which he could indulge to the full his love of brilliant colour. He sent from Canton to the Royal Academy in 1830 a "Portrait of Dr. Morrison translating the Bible into Chinese," and a "Portrait of a Hong Merchant"; and he also sent portraits in 1831, 1834, 1835, 1844, and 1846. The Academy catalogues give him London addresses in 1834 and 1844, but he was in China and did not at any time return to England. He died in his house at Macao on the 30th May, 1852.
Chinnery's talents and genius as a painter have never received due recognition. His voluntary expatriation for the last fifty years of his life, his eccentricities and his indifference to public opinion, have combined to obscure his fame; and, as he seldom signed his works, his portraits often masquerade as Romneys, Raeburns, or Hoppners. His capacity for work and rapidity of execution was phenomenal, and his choice of subjects was as diversified as the mediums he used. He painted in oil and water-colour with equal success; drew in pencil and Indian ink, and was successful in miniature and pastel portraiture. Always original in his technique, he devised a process which combined the softness of pastel with the brilliancy of water-colour, a sort of gouache which he also applied to miniatures, and in which he did some striking work. During his long life and strange career his work was never commonplace, but was always full of life, rich in colour, and spontaneous in execution. During the last years of his life he had several Chinese pupils, who made copies of his works, particularly of small landscapes in oils, which make their appearance from time to time as original works of the artist. The chief of these was Protinqua; another, Lamqua, sent from Canton to the Royal Academy in 1833 a "Head of an Old Man," and in 1846 a portrait of "Captain W. H. Hall, R.N." Though Chinnery appears to have done a considerable number of miniatures very few examples are known.
After he finally parted with his wife he made her a good allowance, which he always punctually paid. She died in Brighton on 23rd December, 1865.
Portrait of Himself. R.A., 1793.
Portrait of Himself. [National Portrait Gallery.] A small full-length figure; painted in China. R.A., 1846.
Portrait of Himself. [Chandler Robbins, New York.]
Portrait of Himself. [Chandler Robbins, New York.] A Sketch.
Portrait of Himself. [Sir Alexander Christison, Bart., 40 Moray Place, Edinburgh.] A small drawing, head only.
Dr. Anderson. Painted in China.
Mrs. Anderson. Painted in China.
Richard (Dunning), second Lord Ashburton. R.A., 1794, as "Portrait of a Gentleman."
Captain Battrie. Painted in China.
Signor Francesco Bianchi, musician. Engraved in stipple by A. R. Burt, in 1805.
Thomas Sibley Braithwaite. [William Sibley.]
Judge Cowley Browne. Painted in Calcutta.
Mrs. Cowley Browne, the artist's daughter. Painted in Calcutta.
Mr. Burn. Painted in China.
Mrs. Burn. Painted in China.
John, second Earl and first Marquess Camden, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Painted in England. This picture formerly hung with the series of portraits of Lords Lieutenant in Dublin Castle; but it has now disappeared.
James, first Earl of Charlemont. Miniature. Engraved "by an Irish artist" in the "Hibernian Magazine" for March, 1800.
Mrs. Chinnery, wife of the artist. [Miss A. Maguire, 7 Harcourt Terrace, Dublin.]
Mrs. Chinnery, wife of William Chinnery. Engraved in stipple by J. Heath. Private plate.
John Terry Chinnery, the artist's brother. R.A., 1792, as"Portrait of a Gentleman."
William Chinnery, the artist's father. R.A., 1791.
Group. G. R. Chinnery, W. G. Chinnery, and Caroline Chinnery, children of W. Basset Chinnery, the painter's eldest brother. R.A., 1802.
Sir Brodrick Chinnery. Painted in Ireland.
Sir Brodrick Chinnery. Miniature.
Anne, Countess of Clare, when Viscountess Fitzgibbon, seated at a spinning wheel. Ex. Dublin, 1800. Perhaps one of the twelve portraits in R.A., 1794, and the one engraved by H. Brocas in "Hibernian Magazine," 1794.
Sir John Claridge. R.A., 1831. Painted in Macao.
Thomas Colledge, surgeon, attending at his private ophthalmic infirmary in Macao. R.A., 1835.
Thomas Colledge, surgeon, with Chinese assistants. Painted in Macao.
Mrs. Colledge. R.A., 1835. Painted in Macao.
Mr. Cooke, musician, Theatre Royal, Dublin. Ex. Dublin, 1801. "An excellent likeness, but evasively executed." (Anon. "Journal," in R.I.A.)
John Davis. R.A., 1834. Painted in China.
Mrs. Davis. Painted in China.
Charlotte, Countess of Dysart. Miniature. [Dr. G. C. Williamson.] Painted in 1793, a copy of an earlier pastel perhaps by Cotes.
John Dent. Painted in China.
Mrs. Eustace, grandmother of the painter's wife. [Miss Maguire, 7 Harcourt Terrace, Dublin.]
Charles, Lord Farnborough. Engraved by J. Heath.
Dr. Robert Cutler Ferguson. Painted in Calcutta.
John Forbes. Painted in China.
Michael Gaven. Miniature. [Miss Maguire, 7 Harcourt Terrace, Dublin.]
Mr. and Mrs. Grant and family. R.A., 1835. Painted in China.
Captain Gribble. Painted in China.
Rev. Charles Gutzlaff, missionary, in the dress of a Fokien sailor. R.A., 1835. Lithographed.
Francis, first Marquess of Hastings. [Government House, Calcutta.] Painted in Calcutta.
Hugh Douglas Hamilton, portrait painter. [Council Room, Royal Hibernian Academy.] Ex. Dublin, 1801, as "Portrait of a celebrated Artist." The "Freeman's Journal," in noticing Chinnery's work at the time, says that this picture "would entitle him to a place in the Pantheon of British Painters."
H. J. Hinchcliffe. Miniature on paper.
Miss Frances Hinchcliffe. Miniature on paper. Both exhibited at South Kensington in 1865 by Emilius Clayton.
Captain Hine. R.A., 1831. Painted in China.
Lieutenant Holman, R.N., the blind traveller. Miniature. [Royal Geographical Society.] R.A., 1835. Painted in China.
A Hong Merchant. R.A., 1830.
Howqua, senior Hong merchant of Canton. R.A., 1831.
William Jardine, Canton merchant. Engraved in mezzotint by T. Lupton.
John Philip Kemble. Engraved by J. Heath in 1799.
Richard Hall Kerr, D.D., Chaplain to the Madras Residency. Engraved by Skelton, 1810.
The Kirkpatrick Children. [Mrs. Phillips.]
W. T. Lewis, actor. Miniature. Engraved by W. Ridley for "The Monthly Mirror," November, 1798.
Miss Lindeck. Miniature. [Dr. G. C. Williamson.]
W. H. Low. Painted in China.
Mrs. W. H. Low. Painted in China.
W. H. Low, junr. Painted in China.
Mrs. W. H. Low, junr. Painted in China.
Miss Low. Painted in China.
Sir Andrew Lungstedt. [Mrs. F. B. Forbes, Boston, U.S.A.]
Sir Francis MacNaughton. [High Court, Calcutta.] Painted in 1824.. .
Ninian Mahaffy. Miniature. [Rev. J. P. Mahaffy, 38 North Great George's Street, Dublin.]
Gilbert, first Earl of Minto. Engraved in mezzotint by C. Turner.
Rev. J. Moore. R.A., 1792, as "Portrait of a Clergyman."
Ann, Countess of Mornington. Miniature. [National Gallery of Ireland.]
Dr. Robert Morrison translating the Bible. R.A., 1830. Painted in China. Engraved in mezzotint by C. Turner. The picture was destroyed by fire.
Nawab Saadat Ali. [Government House, Calcutta.]
Gideon Nye. Painted in China.
A. J. Oliver. R.A., 1792, as "Portrait of an Artist."
"Counseller Plunket." Presumably William Conyngham Plunket, afterwards Lord Plunket. Ex. Dublin, 1801.
Miss Porter. R.A., 1793, as "Portrait of a Lady."
Miss Price. Ex. Dublin, 1800, as "Portrait of a Lady."
Sir Henry Russell, Chief Justice of Bengal. [High Court, Calcutta.] Engraved in mezzotint by S. W. Reynolds.
"Mrs. Siddons and Child." Miniature, signed. Ex. Burlington Fine Art Club, 1887, by Jeffrey Whitehead. This portrait may really represent Lady Clare.
W. M. Thackeray, as a child, with his Father and Mother. Drawing. [Lady Thackeray Ritchie.]
Lady Tuite. Miniature. [Victoria and Albert Museum.]
General Charles Vallancey. [Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, Dublin.] Ex. Dublin, 1800.
Mr. Vigne. A head. Ex. Dublin, 1800.
Miss Vigne, the artist's sister-in-law. [Royal Dublin Society, Kildare Street.] "Attention"; Ex. Dublin, 1801. Bought by the Society in 1800 for £62 11s. 3d.
Thomas Whaley and his Servant, with Sporting Dogs. Ex. Dublin, 1800.
Hon. Mrs. Whaley; full length in a Landscape. Ex. Dublin, 1800. Both these pictures were taken to the Isle of Man when Whaley took up his residence there. They were afterwards in the Victoria Hall, Douglas, and about twelve or fourteen years ago were removed with a travelling company's scenery and taken to Liverpool, where they were subsequently sold, and all trace of them has been lost.
A Drawing, signed and dated 1839, said to be Sir Isambard Brunel. [National Gallery of Ireland.]
Portrait of a Lady. In gouache.; Henry Pfungst, Cleveland Square, London.]
*"Writing and Drawing made easy . . . containing the whole alphabet in all the characters now us'd both in printing and penmanship. . . Engraved by the best hands." London (1750 ?) 4to.
Truelove's Journal: A Bookshop Novella
"Beautiful, different and touching. Short, sweet and lovely. Made me cry. You sense that this is a true story veiled in the guise of fiction as are all the best stories."
Although ostensibly set in England, this story was penned by an Irish bookseller under the pseudonym of Ralph St John Featherstonehaugh.
Join 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.