Henry Tresham, Historical Painter

(b. 1751, d. 1814)

Historical Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Henry Tresham, R.A. Engraved by A. Cardon, after drawing by Alexander Pope.

Son of Thomas and Sarah Tresham, he was born in High Street, Dublin, and was baptized in St. Andrew's church, on 21st February, 1750-1. He was placed in the Dublin Society's drawing school in 1765, and studied there under Robert West and Jacob Ennis. He showed much talent, carried off several prizes, and in 1768, as "Master Tresham," exhibited three drawings at the Society of Artists in George's Lane: "Briseis taken from Achilles," "Achilles complaining to Thetis," and "An Academy Figure." He again exhibited in 1769, sending to the Society of Artists in William Street "Helen visits Priam and the Trojan Councillors at the Scean Gate." In 1770 he was awarded by the Dublin Society a premium of six pounds for a portrait in chalks. In 1771 he started as a limner "at the house Colonel O'Brien formerly occupied in College Green," subsequently removing to No. 2 Dame Street, and he continued to exhibit regularly at the Society of Artists down to 1775, sending small whole-length portraits in chalk and, occasionally, in oil, as well as classical and Biblical subjects. His picture of "Adam and Eve," exhibited in 1773, gained him the premium of fifteen pounds given by the Dublin Society for the best history piece. Among his portraits were many theatrical personages. One of Snagg Wilks as Jessamy in "Lionel and Clarissa," a small full-length in chalk and colour, belongs to Mr. J. G. Fottrell of Fleet Street, Dublin. It is signed and dated 1772, and was engraved in the "Hibernian Magazine" in November of the same year. A portrait of "James Wilder as Colonel Oldboy" was etched by W. Esdall for "Exshaw's Magazine" in May, 1774. In 1773 he helped to decorate, with transparent paintings, the Fishamble Street music hall when it was fitted up for the Ridotto balls held there in that and the following year.

Tresham, finding insufficient support in Dublin, went to London in 1775, and there maintained himself by his small portrait drawings until, as recorded in Sandby's "History of the Royal Academy," he obtained the patronage of John Campbell of Cawdor, afterwards the first Lord Cawdor, who took him as a companion in his travels through Italy. It was presumably after this that he was taken up by Sir Clifton Wintringham, Bart., a celebrated physician of the time, who, according to Pasquin, allowed him one hundred a year to enable him to study in Italy. This allowance, Pasquin says, was withdrawn on the report of the Bishop of Derry, Frederick, 4th Earl of Bristol, that the young artist was not sufficiently industrious.

Tresham remained in Italy, chiefly in Rome, for fourteen years studying from the antique and the works of the old masters, modelling his style especially on the Roman school. During his residence in Rome he published, in 1784, "Le Avventure di Saffo," a series of eighteen subjects designed and engraved in aquatint by himself. During his long stay in Italy, where he was a member of the Academies of Rome and Bologna, he became an accomplished draughtsman, and acquired a wide knowledge of pictures and works of art. He returned to England in 1789, and took up his residence in Dover Street, and sent twelve pictures and drawings to the Royal Academy, among them a large picture 0f "Adam and Eve," which became the property of Lord Powerscourt and was engraved by Schiavonetti. He moved to George Street, Hanover Square, in 1791, and to Lower Brook Street in 1801. He had abandoned portraiture, and his contributions to the Academy, where he exhibited down to 1806, were mostly subjects from scriptural and classical history. He was elected an Associate in 1791 and Member in 1799, and succeeded Opie as professor of painting in 1807. In that year he visited Ireland for the purpose of painting an altar-piece for Maynooth College. He contributed three pictures, illustrating "Antony and Cleopatra," to Boydell's "Shakespeare," and another of the same play to the "Shakespeare Gallery"; and several of his pictures were painted for Robert Bowyer's "Historic Gallery," and engraved for Bowyer's edition of Hume's "History of England," published in ten folio volumes in 1806. He also did illustrations for Macklin's "Bible," and superintended the production of Longman's "British Gallery of Pictures," contributing the descriptive text and selecting the pictures to be engraved. His "Death of Virginia," now in the Diploma Gallery, Royal Academy, was engraved by Schiavonetti, and Bartolozzi reproduced several of his works.

Tresham's acquaintance with the history of the fine arts was extensive; he was a good critic of works of art according to the standard of eighteenth-century connoisseurship, and his judgment and opinion were highly esteemed. He established in Lower Brook Street, in the show rooms built by Gerard Vander Gucht, where Barker of Bath had an exhibition of his works, a gallery of old masters where works ascribed to the most celebrated painters were for sale. From Thomas Hope he purchased for £100 a number of Etruscan vases which had been cast aside as valueless, and he sold part to Samuel Rogers for £800, and the rest, supplemented by others, he transferred to Frederick, 5th Earl of Carlisle, in return for a life annuity of £300. After 1806 continued ill-health compelled him to discontinue the practice of his profession. He bore a painful illness for some years with great patience, and maintained to the last that cheerfulness and vivacity of conversation and fund of wit and anecdote which had made him many friends. He died in Bond Street on 17th June, 1814.

As an artist Tresham excelled as a draughtsman rather than a painter; his drawings in pen and ink and in black chalk are his best productions; his pictures in oil, though well designed, are poorly executed and show little sense of colour. He received but few commissions, and his pictures are now seldom met with. A "Venus and Cupid" by him, a large picture, 60 by 96 inches, is at Malahide Castle, and was exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1853 by Lord Talbot de Malahide. A "Portrait of the Hon. Mrs. Stewart of Killymoon" belongs to Mrs. Clements at Ashfield Lodge, Cootehill; and a Portrait of Miss Catherine Horneck, afterwards Mrs. Bunbury," was sold at Christie's in December, 1906. In the Diploma Gallery at the Royal Academy is his "Death of Virginia."

When the Pantheon in Oxford Street was used for Italian opera after the burning of the Haymarket theatre, Tresham was employed to decorate the front of the stage, which he did with figures representing the Sciences, etc.

Tresham was an accomplished man and a good writer. He published several volumes of verse, illustrated with his drawings: 1st, "The Sea-sick Minstrel, or Maritime Sorrows," a poem, 1796; 2nd, "Rome at the close of the Eighteenth Century," 1799; 3rd, "Britannicus to Bonaparte, an Heroic Epistle, with notes," 1803.

Four portraits of him were engraved: 1st, a Drawing by George Chinnery, etched by Mrs. Dawson Turner, 1802; 2nd, a Drawing by G. Dance, engraved by W. Daniell; 3rd, a Picture by J. Opie, engraved by Samuel Freeman for the "Monthly Mirror," April, 1859; 4th, a Drawing by Alexander Pope, engraved by Anthony Cardon, 1814.

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