James Dowling Herbert, Portrait Painter

(b. 1762 or 1763, d. 1837)

Portrait Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

His real name was Dowling, but he adopted the name of Herbert for stage purposes and eventually retained it as his surname. He was born in Dublin in 1762 or 1763, the son of James Dowling, an ironmonger carrying on business at No. 53 South Great George's Street, who died in 1786. He was sent to a classical school in Dublin with the intention of his becoming a priest; but the idea was abandoned and he went into his father's business, and was employed in keeping the books and accounts. Having a taste for art he entered the Dublin Society's Schools in 1779, at the age of 16, and studied there whilst still continuing his work in his father's shop. In his "Irish Varieties" he gives an account of his introduction to the school and an amusing description of his eccentric master, Francis R. West (q.v.). On quitting the school he became a pupil of Robert Home (q.v.), then practising in Dublin, and remained with him some time. Then, leaving the business in George's Street, he set up for himself as a portrait painter.

A visit to Kells, where he painted numerous portraits of the gentry of the surrounding country, first brought him into notice as an artist, and he returned to Dublin with two hundred guineas which he had made by his work. It was during this visit that he made his first venture as an actor, in getting up an amateur performance for the benefit of some unfortunate strolling players. He painted the scenery and, besides taking part in the performance, composed a prologue which he spoke himself. He was then invited to superintend some private theatricals at Drumcree, Co. Westmeath, for Mr. Smyth, and this led to further orders for portraits.

After his return to Dublin he, with introductions from his Meath friends, set out on a tour to Kilkenny, Limerick and Cork. At Cork he took rooms in the Grand Parade and found as many sitters as he could paint. He joined a company of amateurs in some performances for a charity at the theatre, and the success of his acting and the flattering praises he received determined him to go permanently on the stage and to try his fortunes in London. His friends and relations in Dublin, however, dissuaded him and induced him to abandon his design and to return to the business in George's Street, which his widowed mother was now carrying on. Here he remained five years, but the business not prospering he retired, sold off his stock and returned to his palette and brush. He went to Bath, where he practised as a portrait painter with some success, doing small whole-length portraits in water colour, finished with black-lead pencil. "This kind of painting," says the writer of the anonymous "Journal" in the Royal Irish Academy (24, c. 14-15) "appears to be his forte. . .These pieces, after the colouring is finished, are as it were etched all over with black-lead."

He was in Dublin again in 1798 working as a portrait painter in South Great George's Street, and during that troublous time he did the portraits of many of those connected with the political events of the period, several of which were engraved, such as Arthur O'Connor, W. J. McNevin, Lord Mountjoy, T. A. Emmett, as well as a picture of the arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. He, however, found that the patronage accorded to him, owing to the troubled state of the country, was insufficient to provide for his increasing family—for he had by this time married—so he turned to the stage and resolved to combine the professions of an actor and a painter. Accordingly on the 14th January, 1799, he made his début in the character of Osmund in "The Castle Spectre," at Crow Street Theatre, subsequently appearing in "Oroonoko," and as Beverley in "The Gamester," in all of these parts achieving considerable success. In the "Hibernian Magazine" for February 1799, appeared his portrait in the character of Osmund, with a laudatory article written by Tom Moore, who was his life-long friend. The following year, 1800, he was acting in Belfast and took a benefit there on 16th May, appearing as Paddy O'Carroll in the farce of "The Registry Office."

He was at the same time painting portraits. In an advertisement regarding his appearance at the theatre he adds: "Those ladies and gentlemen whose portraits he has begun he requests they will favour him with an opportunity of finishing their pictures previous to leaving Belfast for engagements in England." In 1801 Herbert was playing at Crow Street Theatre and was also painting portraits at 19 Nassau Street, and later at 44 College Green, and in the same year he exhibited at the Artists' Exhibition in the Parliament House a number of portraits, both oil pictures and drawings, several of them of theatrical personages, and one, a small full-length drawing, of his friend Tom Moore, the first exhibited portrait of the poet. A contemporary newspaper says: "This year's exhibition discovers that Mr. Herbert has not suffered the buskin to engross all his time and talents." Commenting upon Herbert's works in the same exhibition the writer of the anonymous ''Journal" in the Royal Irish Academy (24, c. 14-15) says: "The portraits of this artist have nothing characteristic, are very deficient in animation and of too sallow colouring, but there are, notwithstanding, much worse pictures." He notices unfavourably "Humphrey Butler on his favourite Pony"; a "Portrait of a boy in petticoats," full length, with a little gun, was, he says, the best of his pictures; while the "Portrait of a Lady" was "a very extraordinary design; half-length of a tall woman, I should imagine not more than six inches in diameter . . . a baby face and mahogany complexion."

In the same year he did a portrait of Lord Donoughmore and solicited subscriptions for engraving it. The next few years he seems to have spent partly in Dublin and partly in London. He was not successful on the London stage, and eventually fell back on portrait painting as a means of livelihood. For six months, in 1807, he was employed in painting a series of portraits for Lady Mary Stewart, wife of Alexander Stewart of Ards, of her family and friends. He was satirized in the "Familiar Epistles to Frederick E. Jones, Esq., on the Present State of the Irish Stage," published in 1804, and generally attributed to John Wilson Croker. A footnote says: "This person, from being a brazier, metamorphosed himself into a very middling painter, and finally became an indifferent actor under the title of Mr. Herbert." In later editions was added: "Mr. Dowling is, I am informed, desirous that I should let the public know that I was mistaken in calling him a brazier, for that, in fact, he was an ironmonger; be it so, he shall be anything he pleases but Terence." In 1811 Herbert added to his profession as a portrait painter that of a picture dealer and auctioneer, and in March of that year he opened at No. 3 D'Olier Street his "Repository of Literature and the Arts" for the sale of pictures, prints and books. "Twenty-five years study and practice in his profession," he says in an advertisement, "with an early and continued attachment to Literature, will, he trusts, be considered sufficient qualifications for the undertaking." His first sale took place on 3rd April.

He moved to College Green, opposite Foster Place, in the following year, and here and at No. 2 Exchange Court, where later he had another place of business, he continued with some success for several years, many important collections passing through his hands. At Exchange Court he had a picture gallery where the public was admitted free, and works by all the great masters were for sale. He continued his work as an artist and exhibited at the exhibitions in Dublin. In 1811 he had eleven portraits at the Society of Artists in Hawkins Street, and fourteen the following year. He exhibited in 1815 six portraits, and in 1821 thirteen portraits. How long he continued his business as an auctioneer and dealer is uncertain, and few particulars of the remainder of his life are forthcoming. He was in London in 1832 and 1834, exhibiting at the Royal Academy in both those years. In 1835 and 1836 he was in Dublin and exhibited, from a boarding-house in Maryborough Street, some works at the Royal Hibernian Academy, including his picture of "The Landing of George IV at Howth," which he had shown at the Royal Academy in 1832, and was disappointed in not being able to dispose of. In 1836 he was in London, at 23 Alfred Street, Bedford Square, and published his "Irish Varieties for the last fifty years, written from recollections." A second series was promised by the author, but his death soon after prevented its fulfilment. In 1837 Hubert was in Jersey, and there he died, in his lodgings in Queen Street, in April, 1837, aged 75.

A short time before his death he delighted an overflowing audience at the Theatre Royal, Jersey, by his impersonation of the Irishman, Paddy O'Carroll, in the farce of "The Registry Office," a part he had played with success at Belfast thirty-seven years before. Herbert had a son who was a captain in the 9th Bengal Native Infantry, and held the appointment of Astronomer to the King of Oude! A portrait of Herbert in the character of Osmund appeared in the "Hibernian Magazine" for February, 1799, and Shee, who had been a fellow-pupil in the Dublin Society's School, exhibited a portrait in the Royal Academy in 1805. His collection of pictures, drawings and engravings was sold by auction in Dublin in 1837.

The following works by him are recorded:

Henry A. Baker, Architect. Ex. 1812.

Miss Barnes.

Master Benton Baynes, in a Landscape with a Dog. Oil picture; Christie's, 23rd Feb., 1905.

Henry Betty, as Norval. Sold at Littledale's, Dublin, in June, 1845.

Miss Brown, of the Theatre Royal. Drawing. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Humphrey Butler on his favourite Pony. Oil picture. Ex, Dublin, 1801.

Mrs. Butler. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Counseller Chatterton. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Lord Donoughmore. Ex. Dublin, 1811.

Rev. A. Douglas. Drawing. [National Gallery of Ireland, Milltown collection.] Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Emily Douglas, wife of Joseph Leeson, and afterwards of the 2nd Lord Cloncurry. Drawing. [National Gallery of Ireland, Milltown collection.]

Dr. Fuller.

Miss Jane Harold, of Limerick.

Rev. Mr. Hawksworth. Drawing. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Archdeacon Helsham.

Mrs. Herbert. Drawing;. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Mr. Holman, as Rolla. Drawing, Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Henry Jackson. Drawing. Engraved by T. W. Huffam for Madden's "United Irishmen."

Miss Jefferies of Blarney, afterwards Lady Cahir.

Frederick E. Jones.

R. Jones, as Goldfinch. Drawing. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Mr. Kellet, Banker, Cork.

James Sheridan Knowles. Oil picture. R.A., 1834.

Miss La Touche. Drawing. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

— McCowan, Rector of Kilkenny.

W. J. McNevin. Drawing. Engraved by T. W. Huffam for Madden's "United Irishmen."

Tom Moore. Drawing; small whole length. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Lord Mountjoy, Colonel of the Dublin Militia, killed at the battle of Ross in 1798. "Drawn from memory by J. Dowling. Engraved by H. Brocas. Dublin, Published 20 July, 1798 by J. Dowling Portrait Painter No. 53 South Great George's Street." 4to, stipple.

Sir John Newport. Ex. Dublin, 1811.

Arthur O'Connor. Oil picture. Engraved in mezzotint by W. Ward and published in Dublin by J. Dowling in 1798.

Mrs. Pope, formerly Miss Campion, as Miss Bertram in "The Birthday." Oil picture. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

Miss Fanny Reilly.

Captain G. Reilly.

Major Sirr. Small whole-length drawing. Ex. Dublin, 1801.

William Smyth, of Drumcree, Co. Westmeath.

Sir Charles Vernon.

George William Vernon, barrister, brother of foregoing.

Miss Diana Vernon, afterwards Lady Chinnery.

The Arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Oil picture, painted a few years after the event. It was intended to be engraved, but the only reproduction actually made was that in Cox's "Irish Magazine," September, 1810, in which the four principal figures only were reproduced. The picture belonged in 1858 to O'Connor, a chandler in Thomas Street, and was then in a dirty and neglected condition, as described by Madden.

The Landing of George IV at Howth. Oil picture, 44 by 64 inches. R.A., 1832; R.H.A., 1835. Collection of A. B. Maziere of 31 St, Stephen's Green, sold on 30th July, 1846.

Absolution. Drawing. R.A., 1834. In Artist's sale, 1837.

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