John O'Keeffe, Portrait and Figure Painter

(b. about 1797, d. 1838)

Portrait and Figure Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Was born at Fermoy of humble parentage about 1797, and at an early age was apprenticed to a coach painter. At the expiration of his indentures he worked as a journeyman, and having become skilled as an heraldic painter was employed exclusively in that department. He devoted his evenings and leisure hours to reading and study and so improved the scanty education he had received. He painted some scenery for the local theatre, as well as an act-drop and other decorations, and gradually developing his powers ventured upon portraiture. In this he was so successful that he adopted the profession of a portrait painter and after some time went to Cork. There his unassuming manners, his ready wit and conversational powers made him many friends and brought him some employment. But he found himself unable to confine himself to portrait painting as he desired, and as he was by this time married he was obliged to accept such other work as presented itself. He found encouragement from the Roman Catholic clergy and painted many religious pictures for their churches. Many altar-pieces from his brush are or were to be found in the churches in the neighbourhood of Cork. In 1831 he sent a "Portrait of a Lady" and a "Crucifixion" to the Royal Hibernian Academy.

In 1834 he left Cork and went to Dublin, and in that and the two following years he exhibited portraits and subject pieces. A large picture of "A Sibyl," exhibited in 1835, was accounted his best production. It now hangs in the Museum in Cork. In the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, is a portrait, exhibited in 1836, of John Henderson, a pensioner, who had served at the battle of Culloden and in the Royal Highlanders at Quebec, at the taking of Havannah and in many other engagements, and died 30th April, 1837. This portrait was presented to the Hospital by Sir Edward Blakeney whose portrait was also painted by O'Keeffe and was exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1837. O'Keeffe was gaining some reputation as an artist when he died while on a visit to Limerick in April, 1838. He left a widow and children unprovided for, and his picture of the "Sibyl" was disposed of by raffle for their benefit.

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