Francis Wheatley, Portrait, Landscape and Figure Painter

(b. 1747, d. 1801)

Portrait, Landscape and Figure Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Was born in 1747 in Wild Court, Covent Garden, London, the son of a master tailor. He received his early art training at Shipley's Drawing School, and appears to have been also a pupil of Richard Wilson, to whom, no doubt, he owed much of his excellence as a landscape painter. He carried off premiums given by the Society of Arts in 1762, 1763 and 1769; in 1765, at the age of 18, he sent his first contribution to the Society of Artists, a three-quarter-length "Portrait of a Gentleman." He was then, and for some time after, living in Duke's Court, Bow Street. He continued as a frequent exhibitor down to 1777, and again after his return from Ireland, in 1783. His exhibits were various, mostly small whole-length portraits and conversation pieces in oil, and also miniatures and drawings in crayon. He constantly made expeditions into various parts of England, and the entry in the records of the Society of Arts regarding the premium awarded him in 1767 reveals the hitherto unrecorded fact that in, or previous to, that year he had visited Ireland. The entry is as follows: "1767. Premium for Views from Nature, 2nd share to Francis Wheatley. In Ireland. Subject unknown."

Wheatley was a friend of the painter John Hamilton Mortimer, and assisted him in the decoration of Lord Melbourne's house, Brocket Hall. His progress as an artist was rapid; he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Artists in 1771, and a Director the following year, and he attained to a considerable practice. He was, however, extravagant and careless in his mode of living, which led him into debt, and in 1779 he was compelled to leave London in order to avoid his creditors. He went to Dublin, where, perhaps, he had made friends during his early visit to Ireland, taking with him the wife of Gresse, the water-colour painter, whom he passed off as his wife; a deception which, when discovered, obliged him to leave Dublin. In Ireland he met with much success as a painter, and found full employment for his talents, chiefly with his small whole-length portraits.

One of his first works, and one of his best and most important, was "A View of College Green with the meeting of the Volunteers on the 4th November, 1779, to commemorate the Birthday of King William," which was exhibited by him at the Society of Artists in William Street, in 1780, under that title. This important historical picture, which measures 5 feet 9 inches high, and 10 feet 7 inches wide, represents the Volunteers of the county and city of Dublin assembled round the statue of King William in College Green on the 4th November, 1779, firing a salute in celebration of the King's birthday and his landing in England. The various corps and their officers are represented, including William Robert, 2nd Duke of Leinster, Colonel of the Dublin Volunteers; Sir Edward Newenham, Luke Gardiner, John Fitzgibbon, afterwards Earl of Clare, riding as a trooper in the ranks; David La Touche and others. In a window overlooking the scene, with a parasol held over her, is the Russian Princess Daschkow, who was then visiting Ireland, and Sir Alexander Schomberg, captain of the Royal yacht the "Dorset."

The picture is said to have been painted for the Duke of Leinster, but this does not appear to have been the case; for at the close of the exhibition it was on the artist's hands, and he solicited subscriptions for disposing of it by raffle. In January, 1781, he announced that "by the appointment of his Grace the Duke of Leinster and many other principal subscribers," the raffle would be held at Wheatley's house, No. 39 Grafton Street ("Hibernian Journal," 8th-10th January, 1781). The result of the raffle does not appear, but the picture eventually passed into the possession of the Duke of Leinster. It was exhibited at the Dublin Exhibitions of 1853 and 1872, and was deposited in the National Gallery of Ireland, on loan, by Charles William, 4th Duke of Leinster, in 1875, and presented by Gerald, 5th Duke, in 1891. An engraving of the picture, by J. Collyer, was published in 1784 by R. Lane, who dedicated it to the Duke of Leinster, and also by J. Boydell. This engraving differs in some details from the picture, but follows exactly the water-colour drawing by Wheatley now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was, perhaps, done for the engraver; or it may be the drawing which, according to T. J. Mulvany ("Life of Gandon"), Wheatley made of the Review, at which he was present, from which he painted the picture. The plate came into the possession of Wm. Kelly, bookseller and publisher, of 8 Grafton Street, Dublin, who issued false proofs taken from it.

At the same exhibition in William Street in which this picture appeared in 1780 Wheatley had also four other works: a small whole-length "Portrait of a Nobleman," a "Gentleman with a horse," also a small whole-length; and a "View from Clontarf," and a "View from Dunleary." This was the only occasion he exhibited in Dublin.

On the completion of his picture of the Volunteers, Wheatley commenced another, and more important, picture, "The Irish House of Commons in 1780: Henry Grattan urging the claim of Irish Rights." This great picture, which is signed and dated Fs. Wheatley, Dublin, June 8, 1780, and measures 6 feet 4 inches by 7 feet 1 ½ inch, shows the interior of the House of Commons, its galleries filled with ladies, the Speaker and members in their places, and Grattan standing and delivering his speech moving the repeal of Poyning's Act. It is said that this work was disposed of by raffle, and that subscriptions were also solicited for engraving it; but its history is not clear. It appeared at Christie's in 1790, at the sale of pictures belonging to Dr. Charlton of Bath, but did not apparently find a purchaser. In 1853 it was lent to the Dublin Exhibition by Mrs. Gascoigne, and it is now in the possession of Colonel F. R. T. T. Gascoigne, of Lotherton Hall, Aberford, Yorks. The tradition in his family is that the picture was presented to his ancestor, Silver Oliver, by Wheatley, as some acknowledgment of many kindnesses the artist had received. It is the only contemporary picture of the interior of the House of Commons, and the only accurate existing view of it.*

A key to the picture was published by W. Skelton, Stafford Place, Pimlico, 26th February, 1801, giving the names of the persons represented, who consisted not alone of the Members, but of a few officials of the House, and several Peers who apparently were permitted to enter the House as spectators. This key was preliminary to an intended engraving of the work, which, however, was not done. The "Dublin Evening Post," 10th October, 1801, contains an advertisement of a Print of the House of Commons, after the picture painted by F. Wheatley, "to be engraved in the line manner by Mr. Skelton." The size of the plate was to be 24 by 30 inches; price 4 guineas, proofs 8 guineas; and the picture was to be seen at Mr. Skelton's, 1 Stafford Place, Pimlico.

In 1906 Messrs. Wilson Hartnell and Co., of Dublin, published a large photogravure of the picture, with a copy of the key.

Besides these pictures of the Volunteers and the House of Commons, the most important of Irish historical paintings, Wheatley did at least two other large pictures of public events. In 1783 he sent from Dublin to the exhibition of the Society of Artists in London a "Review of the Irish Volunteers in the Phoenix Park." This is perhaps the picture which was for many years in the National Portrait Gallery in London, and was transferred to the Dublin Gallery in 1898. It was painted in 1781 and shows a group of five figures; the principal figure, said to be Sir John Irwin, k.b., stands by the side of a horse and is receiving a paper from an officer; another officer stands near, and behind is another, mounted. On the right is a servant, in green livery, holding a horse; in the distance, cavalry drawn up and a carriage with two persons seated in it. The picture is signed and dated, and measures 7 feet 9 ¼ inches high, and 5 feet 9 ¼ inches wide. The other work of this kind by him is the "Review in Belan Park, Co. Kildare, the seat of Lord Aldborough," also called "Lord Aldborough on Pomperoso." This picture, 5 feet by 7 feet 6 inches, shows Lord Aldborough on horseback, with carriages in the foreground, and Belan House and the review in the background. It was exhibited by Mr. Vokins at the Old Masters in 1888, and now belongs to Miss Alice de Rothschild of Waddesdon.

Besides painting portraits, chiefly small whole-lengths, Wheatley also employed himself in painting or drawing important country seats and places in various parts of Ireland. Many of them were engraved, some in the "Copper-Plate Magazine," others in Thomas Milton's "Views of Seats in Ireland." He also drew rustic scenes with figures of peasants, which were popular, and obtained a ready sale.

At the end of 1783, or early in 1784, Wheatley who had, from his expensive habits, again become involved in debt, left Ireland, taking with him probably a number of sketches which he subsequently used for pictures and drawings. At the exhibition in the Royal Academy in 1784 he had five works, four of them of Irish subjects, including "Donnybrook Fair" and a "View of the Salmon Leap at Leixlip." The remainder of his life was passed in London, where, until his death, he pursued his profession with extraordinary versatility and industry. He contributed pictures to the Shakespeare Gallery. The set of the "Cries of London," engraved after drawings by him, is well known. It consists of thirteen plates, or if the two versions of "Gingerbread" are taken into account, of fourteen, which were published by Colnaghi at 7s. 6d. each plain, and 16s. coloured. The drawings were exhibited in the Royal Academy from 1792 to 1795. Wheatley was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1790, and a Member the following year. During the last few years of his life he was subject to frequent attacks of illness, and on the 28th June, 1801, he died.

Wheatley was married twice. His second wife, Clara Maria Leigh, who was herself an artist, survived him, and subsequently married Alexander Pope (q.v.), the actor and miniature painter.

The following is a list of works painted in Ireland, or of Irish subjects:

A View of College Green, with a meeting of the Volunteers, on the 4th November, 1779, to commemorate the birthday of King William. [National Gallery, Dublin.] Ex. Society of Artists, Dublin, under this title, in 1780. Deposited in the National Gallery of Ireland, by Charles William, 4th Duke of Leinster, in 1875, and presented in 1891 by Gerald, 5th Duke. This important historical picture, which measures 5 ft. 9 in. by 10 ft. 7 in., shows the Volunteers of the city and county of Dublin drawn up round the statue of King William in College Green, under the command of William Robert, 2nd Duke of Leinster, firing a salute. It contains numerous portraits of officers and others, including the Duke of Leinster, Sir Edward Newenham, Luke Gardiner, and Sir John Allen Johnston. Engraved by J, Collyer in 1784. For full description, and the names of the various corps represented, see the catalogue of the National Gallery of Ireland.

A View of College Green. Water-colour, the original of the engraving by J. Collyer, 1784. It differs in some details from the picture. [Victoria and Albert Museum.]

The Irish House of Commons, 1780; Henry Grattan urging the claim of Irish rights. Signed Fs. Wheatley, Dublin, June 8, 1780. In 1790 the picture was at the sale of the collection of Dr. Charlton of Bath; in 1853 it was lent to the Dublin Exhibition by Mrs. Gascoigne, whose son now possesses it. [Colonel F. R. T. T. Gascoigne, Lotherton Hall, Aberford, Yorks.] See supra, pages 521, 522.

Review of the Irish Volunteers in the Phoenix Park. Ex. Society of Artists, London, 1783. This may be the picture now in the National Gallery of Ireland, which is signed F. Wheatley, px. 1781. It represents a group of five figures in a wooded landscape, with cavalry drawn up in the distance. An officer, said to be Sir John Irwin, then Commander of the Forces in Ireland, wearing the ribbon and star of the Bath, stands by the side of a horse, and is receiving a paper from an officer. Another officer stands by, and behind is another mounted. On the right a servant in green livery is holding a horse. This picture, 7 ft. 9 ¼ in. by 5 ft. 9 ¼ in., was at Christie's in 1877 under the title of "George III and his Staff at a Review." It was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 1883, and was at first called "A Group of Officers, believed to include Lord Amhurst and Field Marshal Conway"; afterwards "The Encampment of the Volunteers in Hyde Park during the riots of '80." Finally it was identified as "Review of Troops in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, by General Sir John Irwin, K.B.," an identification which does not appear wholly convincing. The picture was transferred to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1898.

Review in Belan Park, Co. Kildare (also called Lord Aldborough on Pomperoso). [Miss Alice de Rothschild.] See page 523.

An Irish Volunteer. Messrs. Bennet, Dublin, 6th March, 1878.

Portrait of Henry Grattan, M.P. [National Portrait Gallery.] Engraved in mezzotint by V. Green.

Anthony Webster, actor, as "Comus"; probably painted in Dublin. Engraved in mezzotint by H. Kingsbury, 1781, and dedicated to the Anacreontic Society.

John, Viscount O'Neill. [Lord O'Neill, Shane's Castle.]

Captain Edward O'Brien. [Earl of Inchiquin.]

Portrait of a Gentleman, said to be Charles Lucas. If this be a portrait of Lucas, who died in 1771, it could not have been painted by Wheatley in Ireland. [Pierce Finucane, Pembroke Road, Dublin.]

Mr. Swiney. R.A., 1784.

Mr. Swiney. R.A., 1784.

Palmerston Fair. Ex. by R. Bennet at R.D.S., 1861.

Part of Donnybrook Fair. R.A., 1784.

Nymphs Bathing, a view of the Salmon Leap at Leixlip. Aquatint by F. Jukes, 1785.

View of the Salmon Leap at Leixlip. R.A., 1784. Engraved by T. Milton, 1786.

Irish Peasantry crossing a Brook. Mezzotint by R. Earlom, 1807.

View from Clontarf. Ex. Dublin, 1780.

View from Dunleary. Ex. Dublin, 1780.

The Bay of Dublin. Engraved in aquatint by T. Malton, 1785.

The Sheds of Clontarf. Engraved in aquatint by T. Malton, 1785.

Malahide Castle. Engraved by T. Milton, 1783.

Marino. Engraved by T. Milton, 1783.

The Salmon Leap. Engraved by T. Milton, 1785.

Howth House. Engraved by T. Milton, 1786.

Castle of Lismore. Engraved by T. Milton, 1786. On the engraving the artist is given as W. Pars; but the original water-colour drawing by Wheatley is in possession of H. M. Barnes, 57 Kelvinside Gardens, Glasgow.

Glen Molaur. Engraved by T. Milton, 1786.

Tarbert. Engraved by T. Milton, 1793.

St. Wolstans, Kildare. Water-colour. [Victoria and Albert Museum.] Engraved by W. and J. Walker, 1792, in "Copper-plate Magazine," Vol. I.

St. John's Abbey, Kilkenny. Engraved in Grose's "Antiquities of Ireland."

Enniskerry. Engraved by W. and J. Walker, 1792, in "Copper-plate Magazine," Vol. I.

Howth, sea-shore with boats, etc. Water-colour. [Victoria and Albert Museum.] Engraved by W. and J. Walker, 1792, in "Copper-plate Magazine," Vol. I.

View of the Black Rock. M. Mitchel's sale, 1819.

Irish Peasants and Whisky Tents at a Fair. Etching. Signed and dated F. Wheatley 1786.

NOTE: * Two other pictures representing the interior of the House were done long after the events depicted, and so of no historical value: 1, Nicholas Kenny's "Irish House of Commons on the 16th April, 1782, when Grattan moved the Declaration of Irish Rights," painted in 1744. See Vol. I, page 576. 2, "The Great Parliament of Ireland, elected A.D. 1790," painted in 1872 by H. Barraud and J. Hayter, now in the possession of Sir William Whitla, Belfast. It was reproduced in autotype, with a key, in Newcastle-on-Tyne. The picture is an attempt to represent the House of Commons, with its members and a number of distinguished visitors; but the details of the architecture and other features of the Chamber are inaccurate. The great candelabra and the tesselated pavement were not in the old House, the seating is incorrect, and the Speaker's chair bears no resemblance to the original.

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