Matthew James Lawless, Subject Painter and Book Illustrator

(b. 1837, d. 1864)

Subject Painter and Book Illustrator

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

One of the most brilliant and promising young artists to whom Ireland has given birth was born in Dublin in 1837, the son of Barry Edward Lawless, solicitor, of 13 Harcourt Street. He was educated at Prior Park School, Bath, and on leaving decided to adopt art as a profession, and went to London where his father was then living. He studied at the Langham School, and under Henry O'Neill, R.A. He made his first contribution to the Royal Academy in 1858, sending two pictures, "John Balfour of Burley" and "Sergeant Bothwell," both subjects from "Old Mortality"; and he continued to exhibit yearly until 1863, such works as "Off Guard," and "A Cavalier in his Cups" (1859), both now in the possession of Lord Powerscourt; "A Drop too Much," and "The King's Quarters at Woodstock" (1860); "A Dinner Party," "Waiting for an audience," and "A Man about Town" (1861); "The Widow of Hogarth selling her husband's Engravings" (1862); "A Sick Call" (1863), exhibited at Manchester in 1887 by W. Colthart, engraved in the "Illustrated London News"; and "Hope told a Flattering Tale," at the Society of British Artists in 1860. His pictures were painted with great care and minute finish, full of character and remarkable for their extraordinary correctness of costume. His later pictures show a steady improvement and advancement in his art. It is, however, as a draughtsman and book-illustrator that he will be remembered. His beautiful drawings contributed to "Once a Week," and other periodicals and books, displayed a genius of invention and a sense of beauty and form which ranked him as but little inferior to Millais and Sandys, and speedily obtained for him a wide reputation.

His first contribution to "Once a Week" was in 1859, when his three illustrations to "Sentiment from the Shambles" appeared in Volume I. In Volume II he had two illustrations to Samuel Lover's "The Bridal of Galtrim," as well as "The Lay of the Lady and the Hound," "Florinda," "Only for something to Say," "The Secret that can't be Kept," "A Legend of Swaffam," and three illustrations to "The Head Master's Sister." To Volume III: "Pearl Wearers and Pearl Winners," "The Betrayed," "Elfie Meadows," "The Minstrel's Curse," "My Angel's Visit" and "The Two Beauties." To Volume IV: "The Death of Œnone," "Valentine's Day," "Effie Gordon" and "The Cavalier's Escape." To Volume V: "High Elms," "Twilight," "King Dyring" and "Fleurette." To Volume VI: "Dr. Johnson's Penance," one of his best drawings; "What befell me at the Assizes" and "The Dead Bride." In Volume VII there is but one drawing by him, an illustration to A. C. Swinburne's Story, "a Dead Lion." In Volume VIII are two drawings: "The Linden Trees" and "Gifts"; and in Volume IX, three, viz.: "Faint Heart never won Fayr Lady," "Heinrich Frauenlob" and "Broken Toys." In Volume X appeared the last, and one of the finest, of his contributions, "John of Padua." "Good Words" was started in 1860, and two drawings by Lawless appeared in it in 1862: "Rung into Heaven," a delightful work, and "Bands of Love." In 1864 he contributed one of his most charming illustrations, "The Player and the Listeners," a fine drawing of a young man seated at a harpsichord. To "London Society," started in 1862, Lawless also contributed; the first volume has one drawing by him, "Beauty's Toilette"; Volume II has his "First night at the Seaside," and "A Box on the Ear"; Volume IV has "Honeydew"; and Volume V "Not for You." His other contributions were: "Expectation," in Volume XIII, and "An Episode of the Italian War," in Volume XVIII.

Other periodicals in which Lawless's drawings appeared were: "The Churchman's Family Magazine," in Volume II of which is his fine design of "One Dead"; and the "Churchman's Shilling Magazine," which contains his "Silent Chamber." To "Punch" he contributed six drawings between May, 1860, and January, 1861. In 1876 appeared Thornbury's "Legendary Ballads," which contained eighty-one illustrations reprinted from "Once a Week," and included twenty of Lawless's drawings. "Lyra Germanica," 1861, has three illustrations by him, and two appeared in "Touches of Nature by Eminent Artists," in 1866. Lawless was a member of the Junior Sketching Club, and to its Volume of "Pictures from Modern English Poets," issued in 1862, he contributed four plates etched by himself: "The Drummer," "Sisters of Mercy," "The Bivouac," and "The Little Shipwrights." These etchings were transferred to stone and republished as lithographs in 1876.

Both by his pictures and his drawings Lawless was held in the highest estimation by his brother artists; there were few whose future seemed so full of promise of a brilliant career; nor were his talents confined to painting only, he was a clever musician, and some of his compositions became popular. But his life was cut short by an early death; he fell into ill-health and for nearly twelve months before his end he was unable to work. He died in his father's house in Pembridge Crescent, Notting Hill, on 6th August, 1864, aged 27.

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