Gabriel Beranger, Landscape Draughtsman

(b. 1729, d. 1817)

Landscape Draughtsman

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Lithograph, from a picture; frontispiece to Lady Wilde's "Memoir."

Was born at Rotterdam of a French Huguenot family which had settled in Holland. In 1750, when he was twenty-one years of age, he came to Dublin, where a branch of his family had preceded him. His name first appears as an artist in 1751 upon a drawing of the "Round Tower of St. Michael le Pole," now in the Royal Irish Academy. In 1763 he was making sketches of ruins and remarkable places and buildings in and around Dublin, a work which he afterwards continued in various parts of Ireland. In 1765 he was living in St. Stephen's Green, on the west side, in the house where his kinsman, David Beranger (d. 1758), had for many years kept a noted coffeehouse and where he himself started a print-shop. From this address he exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1765 to 1768. His contributions were landscape drawings, sea-pieces and "medleys." In 1769 he removed his print-selling business to South Great George's Street, where he also taught drawing and painted flowers and birds with great accuracy. He again exhibited in 1771.

In 1773 he made the first of his antiquarian tours through Ireland, commencing with the county of Wicklow. His skill as a draughtsman and his antiquarian tastes attracted the notice of General Vallancey and William Burton Conyngham, who patronized and befriended him. They, together with Charles O'Conor, Rev. E. Ledwich, Dr. Ellis, Rev. Mervyn Archdall, and William Beauford, had instituted the "Antiquarian Society." Burton Conyngham was the first President, and he employed Beranger to make plans and drawings of antiquities for the Society. For this purpose the artist undertook a tour through the west of Ireland in 1779, accompanied by A. M. Bigari (q.v.), who assisted him in his work. In the same year both artists made drawings at Glendalough, and in 1780 Beranger, accompanied by J. J. Barralet (q.v.), went through Wicklow and Wexford; and he visited Dundalk and its neighbourhood in 1781.

Of these tours Beranger kept an itinerary illustrated with sketches. He had arranged them for publication in bound volumes, which at his death went to the two nieces of his second wife, Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Sharkey. Of these, one volume of drawings was presented by Dr. Sharkey to the Royal Irish Academy, where it now is. It is entitled "A Collection of Drawings of the Principal Antique Buildings of Ireland designed on the spot and collected by Gabriel Beranger." It contains ninety water-colour drawings, some by himself, others by the Rev. Mr. Seymour (14), the Earl of Portarlington (8), Penrose, architect, Jonathan Fisher, C. Forrest, A. M. Bigari, Vispré, Stephen Reilly, General Vallancey (22), Miss Sharman, T. Archdeacon, V. Waldre, and Joseph Pidgeon, 71st regiment.

In the Royal Irish Academy there are also five drawings of Dublin buildings: 1st, "The Round Tower of St. Michael le Pole, Birmingham Tower in the Distance," drawn in 1751; 2nd, "St. Michael le Pole," drawn in 1766; 3rd, "St. Michael le Pole," drawn in 1775; 4th, "Christchurch Cathedral," drawn in 1772; this has a note by the artist: "West front of Christchurch, Dublin, taken from a window in the first floor of a house in Christchurch Lane, opposite the church. As the lane is narrow I was obliged to shift from one window to another to get this view." 5th, "St. John's Tower in Thomas Street," drawn in 1780, "taken from a waste ground in the rere." Besides the drawings made to illustrate his tours he did a number of sketches of antiquities for General Vallancey's "Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis." In the "Gentleman's Magazine," 1770, is a topographical description of Dublin and its environs, illustrated by an engraving after Beranger; and in the "Hibernian Magazine," October, 1771, is a "View of the Front of the Palace of St. Sepulchre's," engraved from a drawing by Beranger, "whose views of antiquities of Dublin have been so justly esteemed by the public."

Beranger was a painstaking draughtsman and an accurate delineator of ancient buildings; but beyond that his powers were limited and his landscapes are quite devoid of any artistic feeling. The figures which he was fond of introducing are, however, often spiritedly drawn. He frequently portrayed himself, dressed in a long-skirted red coat, yellow breeches and cocked hat, with a long measuring-staff in his hand. Throughout his journeys he was a close observer of the people among whom he travelled, and he gives in his diaries vivid descriptions of the scenery and the places he visited, of his intercourse with the gentry and of the habits and customs of the peasantry. In his business as a print-seller he was probably not very successful, and he was glad to accept from Burton-Conyngham, about 1783, a post as assistant ledger-keeper in the Exchequer office, which he held until 1789. In his latter years he lived in comparative affluence from portion of a fortune amassed in India by his brother-in-law, Colonel Mestayer. He died in Stephen's Green, in the house of a friend, on 18th February, 1817, aged 88, and was buried in the French burying-ground in Peter Street.

Beranger was twice married, first at St. Peter's church, Dublin, on 26th May, 1756, to his cousin Louise Beranger who died on 15th April, 1782, and was buried in the French burying-ground, Stephen's Green; and second, on 29th June, 1782, at St. Mary's Church, to Elizabeth Mestayer who died on 23rd April, 1802, and was buried in Peter Street cemetery. Beranger left no children. A portrait of him in crayons, by himself, belonged to the Rev. Cotton Walker, rector of Ballinasloe, and afterwards to Miss Emily Cotton Walker, of 1 De Vesci Terrace, Kingstown. It was lithographed for the memoir of the artist contributed to the "Kilkenny Archaeological Journal" by Sir William Wilde. In this memoir, completed and separately published by Lady Wilde, are given interesting extracts from the artist's diaries.

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