COMERFORD, JOHN

(b. about 1770, d. 1832)

Miniature Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Was born in Kilkenny about 1770; the son of a flax-dresser in that town. Of his early life but little is known. He is said to have acquired his knowledge of art by assiduously copying the pictures in Kilkenny Castle. For some years he practised as a portrait painter in oils in Kilkenny, and in Waterford, Carrick-on-Suir and other places in the adjoining counties. Amongst his earliest efforts were portraits of the family of Dr. Edward Walsh. At what time he first visited Dublin is uncertain. An advertisement in the "Leinster Journal," 29th June, 1793, announces the arrival in Kilkenny from Dublin of "John Comerford, portrait painter in oils"; and the same paper in 1797, 13th Sept., advertises "Likenesses in oil and miniature by J. Comerford, who has arrived in Kilkenny for a short time, at Mr. Comerford's, opposite the Tholsel."

But he was unknown to the Dublin public as an artist until 1800, when he sent from Kilkenny two miniatures of ladies, the Misses Warren, to the Artists' Exhibition at Allen's in Dame Street. These miniatures attracted attention. "Here is an artist," says the "Hibernian Journal" in its notice of the exhibition, "whom we never saw or ever before so much as heard of. Our astonishment at his pictures must excuse this note of admiration." He again exhibited from Kilkenny in the following year, and, encouraged by his success, he settled in Dublin and in 1802 sent miniatures to the exhibition in the Parliament House. Of his portraits exhibited in 1801 a contemporary paper says: "Comerford seems to play with his art in all the strength, the ease, and variety of the most vigorous and commanding genius"; and his works exhibited in 1802 are also praised, and the artist is referred to as "bursting at once from provincial retirement into the full blaze of public notice" ("D. E. Post," 11th May and 17th June, 1802.)

He was at this time staying at 27 Dame Street (or College Green), where George Chinnery was also residing. Chinnery after his marriage in 1799 was visiting in the South of Ireland and met Comerford, and, struck with his talents, probably induced him to contribute to the exhibitions which he was instrumental in organizing, and to settle in Dublin. Comerford again exhibited in 1808, and also in 1810, 1812, and 1813. He had abandoned painting in oil and now confined himself entirely to miniatures and small portraits in chalk or pencil, which gained him a high reputation and brought him a large and lucrative practice. In 1808 he visited Kilkenny and did portraits (eleven in all) of the performers in the Kilkenny Private Theatre. These portraits, probably drawings, were engraved in stipple for "The Private Theatre of Kilkenny," a book issued in 1825. About 1817 he moved from 27 Dame Street, where he had been for some years, to No. 2 Leinster Street, and there passed most of the rest of his life. He exhibited in the London Academy in 1804 and 1809.

Comerford was strongly averse to the granting of a Charter of Incorporation to the artists of Ireland and the formation of an Academy. Having had no academic training himself, he was opposed to the idea of schools for the teaching and training of artists, considering that the true way was to go direct to nature and learn for oneself as he had done. "Those," he said, "who encouraged young men to become artists were doing a real and substantial injury to society; they were destroying very excellent carpenters, smiths, and housepainters, and creating a class of unfortunates who never would be capable of doing any good for either themselves or others."* He evidently feared, too, a danger to the monopoly enjoyed by himself and the raising up of successful rivals to those for whom the scanty patronage in Ireland was already insufficient. Chosen as the champion in opposing the establishment of an Academy, he used every effort to defeat the project and addressed a long and elaborate letter to the Chief Secretary, Sir Robert Peel. But the associated artists were able to refute his arguments; he gave up the contest, and the Charter establishing the Royal Hibernian Academy was ultimately obtained. Comerford never joined that body and held aloof from its exhibitions.

For many years he was at the head of his profession in his particular field of art, and by steady persistency in his work accumulated a considerable fortune. During his latter years he worked but little, delighting in entertaining his friends, especially artists with whom he was popular. Shortly before his death he moved his residence to 28 Blessington Street. While on a visit to James Gandon at Lucan he had an apoplectic seizure; and another attack in his house in Blessington Street suddenly terminated his life on the 25th January, 1832. He had an only daughter, to whom he left about five hundred a year. Comerford's miniatures are strongly modelled and full of character, but they lack grace and refinement; and he was more successful in his portraits of men than of women. Among his works are:—

William Ashford, P.R.H.A. Drawing. Ex. Dublin, 1802; engraved in stipple by T. Nugent, and "published by the Directors of the British School, 2 Berners Street, 1803." The drawing then belonged to Lt.-General the Hon. Brydges Henniker.

William Ashford, P.R.H.A. Miniature. [C. De Groot, dealer, Liffey Street, 1912.] This miniature belonged to the artist's family, and finally came to William Ashford Bell.

Joseph Atkinson, of Milford, Co. Dublin. Engraved by T. Heath.

Peter Atkinson of Lower Bridge Street. Posthumous Miniature, done in 1817. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

John Ball of Eccles Street, silk manufacturer; father of Judge Nicholas Ball. Oil Picture. Reproduced in Revd. W. Ball-Wright's "Ball Family Records."

John Ball, serjeant-at-law. Drawing. [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

Sir Jonah Barrington. Drawing after H. D. Hamilton. [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

W. W. Beecher. Engraved in stipple for "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

John Lord de Blacquiere. Drawing. [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath in Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

Thomas Braughall. Oil Picture. [Royal Dublin Society.] Engraved by J. Martyn in "Hibernian Magazine" for June, 1803.

Earl of Bristol, Bishop of Derry. [Sir Hervey Bruce, Bart.] Mr. Burgoyne. Miniature; painted in 1802. Lent by Charles Bowyer to South Kensington in 1865, and to Wrexham in 1876.

Charles Kendal Bushe, Solicitor-General. Miniature.

Charles Kendal Bushe. Drawing from above miniature. [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

Humphrey Butler. Drawing. Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

Humphrey Butler. ? Same drawing. Engraved for "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

Angelica Catalani. Engraved in stipple by L. Schiavonetti.

Angelica Catalani. Pencil sketch. [W. G. Strickland.]

Mr. Cave. Miniature. [W. T. Kirkpatrick, Donacomper, County Kildare.]

James, Earl of Charlemont. Pencil drawing after H. Hone. [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

Anne, Countess of Charlemont. Miniature, Lent to Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1887, by Jeffrey Whitehead.

John Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare. Drawing. [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

William Coppinger, Bishop of Cloyne and Ross. Chalk drawing. [National Gallery of Ireland.] Engraved in stipple by Charles Rolls.

Charles, Marquess Cornwallis. Miniature.

Charles, Marquess Cornwallis. Drawing, from above miniature. [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

James Corry. Engraved in stipple for "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

John Crampton. Engraved in stipple for "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

John Philpot Curran. Drawing. Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

Mrs. Dobbyn. Oil picture. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

William, Lord Downes. Miniature. Ex. R.D.S., 1825; Dublin Ex., 1872, by Mrs. Webber; Guildhall, London, 1904, by W. D. Webber. Engraved in mezzotint by T. Lupton.

Dr. Patrick Duigenan. Drawing. [Lord Monteagle.]. Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

John Egan, K.C. Drawing. Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

George Ensor. Drawing. Engraved in stipple by H. Meyer.

Rt. Hon. James Fitz-Gerald. Drawing. [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

William Fletcher. Miniature. Lent to South Kensington, 1865, by W. F. H. Fletcher.

Henry Flood. Drawing, after B. Stoker (q.v.). [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

James Gandon. Drawing. Engraved in stipple by H. Meyer.

Thomas Gold. Drawing. Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

Henry Grattan. Engraved in stipple for "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

Charles Hamilton of Hamwood. Miniature. [Charles R. Hamilton, Hamwood, Dunboyne.]

James H. Hamilton of Woodbrook. Engraved in "Memoirs of the Family of Grace," 1823.

Eleanor Hamilton, née Stuart, wife of foregoing. Engraved in "Memoirs of Family of Grace," 1823.

Mrs. Hamilton, née Tisdall, wife of Alexander Hamilton, K.C. Miniature. [Mrs. Deane-Freeman, Vesey Place, Kingstown.]

Mrs. Maria Hamilton. Miniature. [Hugh Stuart Moore, 1903.]

Philip, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke, K.G. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1802. "One of the most exquisite productions" ("Dublin Evening Post," 11th May, 1802).

William Parnell Hayes. Chalk drawing. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Sir John Hope, Commander of the Forces. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1813.

Lady Hope. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1813.

Gustavus Hume, State Surgeon. Engraved in stipple by John Carver.

Somerset, Viscount Ikerrin, afterwards 3rd Earl of Carrick. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1812.

Jane Louisa, wife of R. Jebb, Justice of the King's Bench. Engraved in stipple by R. Cooper, 1824; private plate.

John Keogh of Mount Jerome. Miniature. [Captain J. Wiseman Keogh, Geevagh, Ballyfarnon, County Sligo.]

John La Touche. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1813.

Augustus F., 3rd Duke of Leinster. Miniature; dated 1813. [Duke of Leinster, Carton.] Ex. Dublin, 1813.

Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of 4th Duke of Richmond. Miniature. [Duke of Richmond.]

Eleanor, Viscountess Lismore, in a Van Dyck dress. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1812.

John Lyster. Engraved in stipple in "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

John Eccles Madden. Miniature. [Colonel Layard, 1903.]

Thomas, 1st Lord Manners, Lord Chancellor. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1810. Engraved by A. Cardon, 1811.

Walter Mansfield, when a boy. Oil picture. [George Mansfield, d.l.] On the back of the canvas is a sketch in monochrome of a small full-length figure seated in a chair.

Alexander Mansfield, when a boy. Oil picture. George Mansfield, d.l.]

Edward Mayne, Justice of the Common Pleas. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1812. Engraved by A. Cardon.

Thomas Spring Rice, Lord Monteagle. Drawing. Engraved in stipple by R. Cooper, 1825, for "Dublin and London Magazine."

Thomas Moore. Engraved in stipple in "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

Lady Morgan, when Miss Owenson, playing on the harp. Engraved by S. Freeman as frontispiece to "The Wild Irish Girl," 1846.

Mrs. Newcomen, mother of the Countess of Eglinton. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1872, by C. Brian.

Daniel O'Connell at the age of twenty-five. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1875, by Mrs. Fitzsimon.

Daniel O'Connell. Drawn in 1824. Engraved in stipple by T. Heaphy, and published in London in 1825. In "The Freeman's Journal," 1st January, 1825, is an advertisement from Comerford announcing that he had just finished a portrait of Daniel O'Connell, "which for likeness and other important qualities is considered by all who have seen it one of the very best of his works. He has engaged an eminent English artist to engrave this picture; and in order to stimulate him to the utmost possible exertion of his abilities and ensure the greatest possible expedition consistent with high finishing, he has agreed to pay him full double the usual price."

James, 19th Earl of Ormonde, afterwards 1st Marquess. Miniature. Engraved by R. Grave in "Memoirs of the Family of Grace," 1823.

James, 1st Marquess of Ormonde. Engraved by Parker for Jerdan's, "National Portrait Gallery," 1830.

Robert Owen. Lithograph. A sketch by J. Comerford. Taken at the request of A. U.R.

J. Cleeve Parsons. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1875, by John Robert Parsons.

Sir John Piers. Miniature. This miniature, set in a locket, figured in the crim. con. case of Lord Cloncurry against Sir John Piers in February, 1807.

Mrs. Richard Ponsonby. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1810.

Richard Power, of Kilfane. Engraved in stipple in "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

Richard Power, as Macbeth. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1812.

Charles, 5th Duke of Richmond, when Earl of March. Engraved in stipple by A. Cardon.

Lawrence, 2nd Earl of Rosse. Drawing [Lord Monteagle.] Engraved in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

George Routh. Engraved in stipple in "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

A. Hamilton Rowan. Drawn fron nature on stone, 1822. J. H. Lynch did a lithograph, smaller size, from this, in 1843. A Head, sketch in crayons, was sent to R.D.S. Ex. in 1858 by Peter Smith.

William Saurin, Attorney-General. Miniature. Ex. Dublin, 1813.

Maria, Lady Shaw. Miniature. [Sir Frederick Shaw, Bart., Bushy Park, Terenure.]

Miss Smith. Engraved in stipple in "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

Edward Smyth, Sculptor. Drawing. Engraved in stipple by H. Meyer. The head on Woodhouse's medal to Smyth was taken from this drawing.

Mrs. Henry Tighe. Miniature. [Earl of Mayo.]

Mrs. Henry Tighe. Miniature. [E. K. B. Tighe, Woodstock, Co. Kilkenny.] This is a copy of the portrait by G. Romney now in possession of Sir Henry Grattan Bellew, Bart., Tinnehinch. The white turban is omitted in the miniature. Engraved by Caroline Watson as frontispiece to "Poems" by Psyche.

Mrs. William Tighe, née Fownes. Miniature. [E. K. B. Tighe, Woodstock, Co. Kilkenny.]

Dr. Edward Walsh. Etched by John Kirkwood in vol. iii of "Dublin University Magazine," 1834.

Rev. Robert Walsh. Etched by John Kirkwood in vol. xv of "Dublin University Magazine," 1840.

Miss Walstein. Engraved in stipple in "Kilkenny Private Theatre."

The Misses Warren. Two miniatures. Ex. Dublin, in 1800, as "two miniatures of ladies."

Dr. White, of Carrick-on-Suir. Oil picture. [Thos. O'Kearney White, Edenderry.]

Thomas Williams, Secretary to the Bank of Ireland. Miniature. Engraved by E. Scriven.

Portrait of a Gentleman. Miniature; signed Comerford 1813. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Portrait of an Old Gentleman. Miniature. [Victoria and Albert Museum.]

An English Officer. Miniature. [Victoria and Albert Museum.]

Nine unfinished Miniatures. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Eleven unfinished Miniatures. [Jeffrey Whitehead.]

Portrait of a Lady. Miniature; unfinished. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

NOTE: * James Barry in a letter to Burke said much the same thing about academies, only in stronger language.

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