BUTTS, JOHN

(d. 1765)

Landscape Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Was born in Cork and was a pupil of Rogers (q.v.) the landscape painter. He practised for some years in his native city. Pasquin says that "his landscapes were impressive copies from the wild scenes which abound in the County of Cork and the romantic views on the margin of the Blackwater. No man was more happy in his choice of nature; his breadth of light and shadow and harmonious colouring are in a high degree fascinating; and the facility with which he painted created wonder." About 1757, when he was in his thirtieth year, he went to Dublin and there found employment as a scene-painter at the Crow Street Theatre, then under the management of Spranger Barry, and also endeavoured to support his large family by such work in landscape and figure painting as he could obtain. But his irregular and intemperate habits which had prevented his success in Cork, kept him always in a state of poverty and distress, and he had the misfortune to fall into the hands of Chapman, the picture dealer, who "indulged his propensities, finding a ready sale for his pictures which were executed with rather more facility when drunk" (Pasquin). His work in Dublin was mostly copies or compilations from prints after Claude, Poussin, Salvator Rosa, and other painters, varied with ale-house scenes, "grotesque assemblages" and similar subjects in which he is said to have excelled. He was often compelled to paint signs and coach panels to provide for the wants of his family. The Dublin Society gave him a premium of six guineas for a landscape in 1763. He died, as he had lived, in poverty and distress in May, 1765.

Butts appears to have possessed considerable ability as an artist and might, under happier circumstances, have attained a high place as a landscape painter. His friend, James Barry the painter, writing from Rome to Dr. Sleigh of Cork says: "I am, indeed, sensibly touched with the fate of poor Butts who, with all his merit, never met with anything but cares and misery, which, I may say, hunted him into his very grave. His being bred in Cork excluded him from many advantages; this he made evident by the surprising change of his manner on his going to Dublin; his fancy, which was luxuriant, he confined to its just bounds, his tone of colouring grew more variegated and concordant, and his pencilling, which was always spirited, assumed a tenderness and vivacity." And he goes on to say: "His example and works were my first guide and was what enamoured me with the art itself." A "View of Kilkenny" by Butts belongs to Mrs. Clements of Ashfield Lodge, Cootehill.

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