Richard Doyle, Humorous Draughtsman

(b. 1824, d. 1883)

Humorous Draughtsman

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Richard Doyle. Oil Sketch, by Henry E. Doyle; in National Gallery of Ireland.

The second son of John Doyle (q.v.), was born in London on 18th September, 1824. He was taught drawing by his father, and from his childhood showed extraordinary precocity and original talent as a designer and draughtsman. At the age of 12 he did some comic illustrations to Homer. A manuscript Journal which he kept between the ages of 15 and 16, now in the Print Room of the British Museum, is a marvel of fresh and unfettered invention, a wonderful work for a boy of his age. It consists of one hundred and fifty-six pages with vignette sketches in pen and ink on almost every page. At the same period he published "The Eglinton Tournament, or the Days of Chivalry Revived," and in 1840 did a series of water-colour drawings, "A Grand Historical, Allegorical and Comical Procession of Remarkable Personages, Ancient, Modern and Unknown," signed "Dick Kitcat," which was published by McLean in 1842. The original drawings, including some not published and others varying from the printed issue, were in 1908 in the possession of Francis Edwards, bookseller, 83 High Street, Marylebone. Four drawings in pen, tinted, done in 1839, of "A Steeplechase," are in the National Gallery of Ireland. In these early works the young artist showed a facility of drawing and a brilliancy of fancy and humour quite equal to the work of his later years.

In 1843 Doyle became a regular contributor to "Punch," which had been established two years before. At first he drew initial letters, tail-pieces, ornamental borders, etc., including the clever comic borders to the Christmas number. Later he did the cartoons, the first being "The Modern Sisyphus" in the issue of 16th March, 1844. But his style of humour and his love of beauty and gracefulness even in the grotesque, unsuited him for political caricature. In the same year he designed the cover in which he afterwards made some alterations, the final design being done in 1849, and in this form it has been used ever since. This and his other drawings he signed with his mark, a "dicky bird" perched on the letter D.

In 1849 he contributed "The Manners and Customs of the English," a series of designs in outline, humorous satires on the foibles and fashions of society; and in 1861-3 he did a similar series, "Birds-eye Views of Society" for Thackeray's newly-launched "Cornhill Magazine." His connection with "Punch" terminated in 1850. He withdrew in consequence of the attacks made in the paper, especially by Leech, upon the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman on the occasion of the restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and thus voluntarily sacrificed a secure and fair income. He never again drew for the paper and refused to draw for its rivals. Henceforth he worked as a book illustrator.

With graceful pencil and humorous fancy he illustrated Thackeray's "Rebecca and Rowena," 1850; Ruskin's "King of the Gold Mines"; A. R. Montalba's "Fairy Tales from all Nations," 1849; and in 1851 "An Overland Journey to the Great Exhibition." In 1854 he brought out his "Foreign Tour of Brown, Jones and Robinson," part of which had appeared in "Punch." Other works illustrated from his drawings were "The Fairy Ring," 1846; Leigh Hunt's "Jar of Honey from Mount Hyblos," 1848; Mrs. T. C. Hervey's "Juvenile Calendar," 1855; Thackeray's "Newcomes," 1853-1855, for which he also designed the cover for the monthly parts; "Fairy Tales," by Mark Lemon; "Puck on Pegasus," by H. C. Pennell; T. Hughes' "Scouring of the White Horse," 1859; "An old Fairy Tale told anew in Pictures and Verse," by R. D. and J. R. Planché, 1865; Thackeray's "Burlesques," 1869; L. Oliphant's "Piccadilly," 1870; "In a Fairy Land, a series of Pictures from the Elf World, by R. D., with Poem by W. Allingham," 1870; "Snow White and Rosy Red," 1871; F. Locker's "London Lyrics," and Aytoun's and Martin's "Bon Gualtier Ballads." In all these he showed his marvellous fertility of invention and graceful drawing, his kindly satire and fantastic imagination and humour.

During his later years Doyle devoted himself to water-colour painting, chiefly of fairy and romantic subjects and of wild moorland and woodland scenery peopled with the elves and fairies in which he delighted. Several of his water-colours are in the National Gallery of Ireland including one of his largest efforts "The Triumphal Entry, a Fairy Pageant," which, with a collection of his drawings, was exhibited in the Grosvenor Gallery in 1881.

On the 10th December, 1883, Doyle was struck down with apoplexy as he was leaving the Athenaeum Club and he died on the following morning at his residence, 7 Finborough Road. "Few men," said "The Times," "had more friends, and even those who only knew him by his drawings could hardly help feeling an affection for a man who possessed such a fund of fancy and kindly humour."

The exhibition in the Grosvenor Gallery in 1881 revived the knowledge of an artist who in his old age had almost been forgotten. But it showed that the elaborate drawings of his later years had the same faults as those of his youth. Wanting a thorough training as an artist his drawing was always incorrect and mannered. In his humour and fancy and in his drawing he was always the clever boy rather than the matured and serious artist; and he remained only an amateur until the end. He was at his best in work on a small scale when his incorrectness mattered little, but he failed when he attempted large figures, when his defects of drawing were apparent.

A portrait of him, an oil sketch by his brother Henry E. Doyle, is in the National Gallery of Ireland. Holman Hunt said that no portrait of him showed his delightfully amusing laugh which always seemed to be indulged in apologetically, with the face pressed into the cravat and the double chin pressed forward.

« John Doyle | Contents and Search | William F. Doyle »