DIXON, SAMUEL

(fl.1748-1769)

Water-Colour Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

He was son of Thomas Dixon, hosier, Cork Hill, and brother of John Dixon, the engraver (q.v.). As early as 1748 he was established as a picture dealer and painter in Capel-street, at the house formerly occupied by Dr. Sheridan, grandfather of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, where he sold "Flower-pieces, drawings in Indian ink, landscapes in oyl for chimneys, and small ditto done on vellum in water-colour fit for ladies' closets."

Dixon became noted for his flower and bird pieces in basso-relievo. The designs for these were impressed on sheets of coarse grey paper, by copper plates from the back, so that the design stood out in relief. They were afterwards coloured by hand. Dixon employed several young men, who lived in his house, to colour these designs; amongst them being James Reily and Gustavus Hamilton, afterwards well-known miniature painters in Dublin, and Daniel O'Keeffe. These flower and bird pieces, which were very popular, are now rarely met with. They are about 12 inches high. 16 inches wide, painted mostly in body colour in a stiff and formal manner. They were issued in sets of twelve, and each piece had a printed description of the birds or flowers, and a dedication. An example of a dedication is as follows: "To the Right Honourable Countess Dowager of Kildare. This piece in basso-relievo is dedicated by her Ladyship's most humble and obedient servant, Samuel Dixon."

The prints were sold in "gold, peartree and japanned frames." Ten of these flower and bird pieces, in their original japanned frames, each with printed description and dedication, are in Kew Palace, and seven bird pieces, also in their original frames, are at Howth Castle. In 1751 Dixon issued an advertisement warning the public against imitations of his "foreign bird pieces in basso-relievo which are being hawked about the city by a woman, and likewise being put into auctions." His bird and flower pieces, he says, "are sold nowhere but in his own shop and at Mrs. Breton's, Cork." The woman referred to was probably Mary Taverner, of Aungier Street, who advertised basso-relievo birds and flower pieces, and "hunting scenes in basso-relievo never yet done in this Kingdom."

Zachary Deane, publisher, advertised similar works: "A most curious set of flower pieces, twelve in number, done in basso-relievo from the designs of John Baptist and painted from nature, is just published by Zach. Deane in George's Lane, opposite Chequer Lane. They are of a large size, and, being executed with the utmost care and considerable expense, the Publisher hopes for the encouragement of the curious" ("Faulkner's Journal," 29th Sept., 1753).

In 1754 Dixon published a "bust in basso-relievo of the Rt. Hon. Henry Boyle, Esqr., Speaker of the House of Commons, neatly printed from a true original" ("Faulkner's Journal," 8th Jan., 1754).

In September, 1755, he advertised an auction of all his stock, "as his business requires his attendance abroad"; and he again advertised early in the following year his "stock of paintings, drawings, busts and statues," as well as "a new set of pictures just completed." This disposal of his stock, which began on 2nd February, 1757, was preparatory to his embarking upon a new business, the printing of linens, cambrics and cottons from metal plates. This industry appears to have been begun by a company at Drumcondra some years previously and Dixon now started a similar factory at Leixlip.* He made improvements in the invention, discovering a method of fixing the colours so as not to fade in bleaching or washing; and added to the usual patterns of flowers, fruit and foliage, the representation of animals in their natural colours, landscapes, architectural subjects, and also portraits ("The Interests of Ireland," etc., 1759, by H. Brooke).

In 1759 Dixon, together with Thomas Taylor and another, presented a petition to the House of Commons, as proprietors of the printing manufactory at Leixlip, praying for aid "to establish the art of impressing linen from metal plates." In 1760 he was carrying on his business as "Samuel Dixon and Co.," both at Leixlip and in Capel Street. "Amongst the several curious works from copper plates," says a contemporary newspaper, "done by Dixon and Co. at their manufactory at Leixlip, they have finished a most elegant plate for furniture, such as hangings of rooms, beds and window curtains, which for design, drawing and engraving, exceeds anything as yet done in that way."

Taylor died in January, 1764, and the business was continued by Dixon alone. In the same year he was given a premium of £98 1s. 3d. by the Dublin Society, for his printing work on linens and cottons; but although the factory produced excellent work it did not prove financially successful, and was soon after closed.

Dixon then went to London, where he started a picture shop, and also held an exhibition of his works. He returned to Dublin in 1768, and opened a shop in Capel Street at the Golden Head, opposite to where he had formerly lived. In this year he made his only appearance at the exhibitions of the Dublin Society of Artists, contributing three flower pieces in water-colour. In advertisements issued by him at this time he describes himself as a "painter," and says that "he is making several new improvements in his flowers, birds, etc." His stay in Dublin was, however, short, for he died in London on the 27th January, 1769. The "Gentleman's Magazine" refers to him as "known for his celebrated exhibition of Paintings"; and an obituary notice says that he was "celebrated for his taste in Paintings."

*The Drumcondra factory had a warehouse "in George's Hill opposite to the Glass-house in Mary's Lane and near the Linen Hall," where was sold wholesale, as described in an advertisement, "Linens, cottons, lawns and cambrics printed from engraved metal plates in the newest and most elegant patterns and in beautiful and lasting colours, fit for women's gowns, men's waistcoats, covers of chairs, screens and hangings, the printing and engraving of which are executed by the ablest artists that can be procured at Paris. ... Drumcondra goods are distinguished by a print at each end of the piece representing His Majesty's Arms in the centre, the figure of Hibernia with the attributes on one side, a cypher on the other and underneath the name Drumcondra in large letters" ("Faulkner's Journal," 23rd-26th November, 1754).

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