Richard Rothwell, Portrait and Subject Painter

(b. 1800, d. 1868)

Portrait and Subject Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Richard Rothwell, R.H.A. Picture by Himself; in the National Gallery of Ireland.

He was the eldest of the seven children of James Rothwell of Lisdaly, near Cloghen, King's County (of a branch of the family of that name in the county of Meath), by his wife Elizabeth Holmes, and was born in Athlone on 20th November, 1800. At the age of 14 his uncle, Thomas R. Watson of Dublin, having taken charge of him, he entered the Dublin Society's School on 1st December, 1814, and there commenced his art studies. During the five years he spent there he acquired considerable skill as a draughtsman, and in 1820 he was awarded a silver medal for his studies in oil from the antique. Starting as a portrait painter he soon won recognition as a clever and promising artist, although he was at first so discouraged at not finding an immediate success commensurate with his ambition that he contemplated the abandonment of his profession and had actually tried to join a company of strolling players. Dissuaded from so doing he persevered in his profession as a painter, and on the foundation of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1823 he was elected an Associate, and in the following year a Member. He contributed portraits to the Academy exhibitions from 1826 to 1829, including one of "Archibald Hamilton Rowan," 1826, and "Lord and Lady Dufferin," 1828. In 1829 he went to London, and there soon found himself in a fair way to success as a portrait painter. "An artist has come from Dublin," said Landseer to a friend, "who paints flesh as well as the Old Masters."

He was for a short time in the studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence, who thought highly of him, and on the latter's death in January, 1830, Rothwell was entrusted with the finishing of his uncompleted portraits. He had four portraits in the Royal Academy in 1830, and five in 1831, all of prominent personages, including "Lord Downes," "Viscount Beresford" and "William Huskisson, M.P." Commissions came to him, and he was able to raise his prices from thirty to eighty guineas. His work showed great talent in portraiture and would undoubtedly in time, had he persevered, placed him in the forefront of his profession. But unfortunately he did not follow up his early success or avail himself of the opportunity presented to him of succeeding to some, at least, of Lawrence's practice. In his intercourse with his fellow-artists he became keenly sensitive of his ignorance of the works of the great Masters which he frequently heard discussed.

He resolved to visit Italy and study their pictures, and accordingly, in the midst of his success, he, in 1831, threw up such commissions for portraits as he had and went abroad. The Duchess of Kent, who had warmly befriended him and helped with many commissions, gave him letters of introduction to several of the Italian courts and to persons who might be useful to him, but none of these he presented. This lost him the friendship of the Duchess. He remained away about three years, and on his return to London in 1834 he settled at 22 Newman Street where he took up his work as a portrait and subject painter, and resumed exhibiting in the Academy. He had two portraits and subject pictures in the exhibition in 1835, among them a portrait of "Captain Basil Hall, R.N.," painted in Rome, in 1833.

His absence abroad had, however, seriously affected his prospects; he found himself forgotten, and his place as a portrait painter occupied by others. He might have regained his position, although it is said that his works did not sustain his former reputation; but unfortunately he came under the influence of B. R. Haydon, and was seized with the ambition of distinguishing himself as a painter of historical and subject pictures. His friend Sir William Beechey earnestly attempted to dissuade him from this course, advising him to make portraiture his main work and not to endeavour to make a living by subject compositions. Beechey's letter, written in 1836, has a note by Rothwell written in 1840: "Sir William Beechey was my best, my truest friend in the whole range of my professional acquaintance."

His desire, however, to gain fame as a painter of subjects rather than of portraits never left him; for a time there was some demand for his pictures of fancy subjects, and collectors in Birmingam, Liverpool and Manchester bought his works. But his compositions did not generally attract the public, and were often rejected or badly hung in the Royal Academy, and he seems to have fallen off in his power of portraiture. A contemporary criticism of his pictures observed that, "after years of experience, if not of labour, he has disappointed his friends and fulfilled the predictions of his detractors. His first portrait exhibited was his best" ("Evening Mail," 4th July, 1838). He had taken up his residence at 31 Devonshire Street, in 1838, and continued to exhibit regularly at the Academy. In 1847, depressed and discouraged by the want of patronage accorded to him, and embittered by what he conceived to be his unfair treatment by the Academy, he left London and settled at Rose Cottage, Willbrook, Rathfarnham, near Dublin, where he remained for the next few years. During his residence in London he had continued to send works regularly to the Royal Hibernian Academy, but ceased to exhibit in 1846. He had resigned his membership in 1837, but on his return to Ireland he was, on 1st December, 1847, re-elected an Associate, and on the same day a Member. He again resigned in 1854, and was then made an Honorary Member. At Rathfarnham he lived quietly with his wife and family—he had married in 1842—painting a few portraits and other pictures, and contributing occasionally to the Royal Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy.

The death of his eldest child, who figures in his picture of "The Madonna and Child," was a blow he never recovered. He became unsettled, and leaving Rathfarnham in 1852 he returned to London, where for a short time he lived at 27 Charlotte Street, Portland Place.

In 1854 he went to America with the idea of finding a home there, leaving his wife and family with her friends near Belfast; but after a short stay he abandoned the idea of settling in America and returned to England. In the following year he paid another visit to America where he had made many friends, especially in Boston. He painted a number of portraits, and in December, 1855, had an exhibition of his pictures. He next, accompanied by his wife and children, went to Rome where he remained a year and a half; and on his return to England in 1858 he took a house in Leamington.

In 1862 he made his last contribution to the Royal Academy: "The Student's Aspiration"; and at the International Exhibition that year he had three pictures, including the "Calisto," now in the National Gallery of Ireland, upon which he had concentrated all his powers, and considered his finest work. These pictures were so badly hung, "placed in an obscure corner, high up, almost beyond my recognition," that, stung with the indignity with which he was treated, he addressed a strongly-worded protest to Lord Granville, the President of the Exhibition. "The pictures I contribute," he writes, "were considered elaborate works of Art (in contradistinction to convention) by painters of reputation. And now that an indignity has been publicly heaped on me, I am obliged to come from my privacy and as publicly proclaim the wrong. In honourable rivalry with the best painters in England I contributed my works, for I play with no second class. You have now, my Lord, in the Gallery the selected works of President Eastlake, Mr. Mulready and the Landseers. After the injury aimed, so far successfully, at me, I am entitled to have my pictures placed in the midst, side by side with those the boasted painters of England, if only for a day—an hour. Appoint Sir Charles Eastlake, Mr. Hurlstone and a Committee selected from the Foreign Courts—for Art knows no country—I shall bow to its decision."

In a further letter he writes: "Had my production been a case of pickles, a gun, a piece of silk, or a well-set jewel, I would have had the right granted to me of placing it in that situation which I thought most advantageous to its being seen, where its qualities would have been developed. English justice would have demanded this. No rival producer would be permitted to put it into a corner and out of sight. And yet my works, the result of forty years experience and study of no grudging kind, have been so treated. I ask, therefore, in my name, aye, and in the name of the great body of the artists of this country, that my disgrace be confirmed by an honourable tribunal in open court, or that that disgrace be thrown back on the men who have abused the trust reposed in them by Her Majesty's Commissioners." Rothwell printed and published these letters in pamphlet form with a short prefatory letter to Lord Granville, in which he says: "In now printing them I feel that I am cutting the last round of the ladder and that I shall have no chance of ever again having a picture fairly hung in what is miscalled the National Exhibition in the rooms of the Royal Academy. This advantage I freely give up rather than forego my public protest against partiality and injustice."*

Rothwell left Leamington in 1862, and after a short stay in Belfast, where he left his wife and family, he went abroad. He showed some of his works in Paris and in Brussels, where he had the satisfaction of finding them praised and appreciated, and then went on to Rome. There he worked hard, painting poetical compositions which he still hoped would bring him fame; but he was attacked by fever, and after a week's illness he died on 13th September, 1868. Severn, an old friend, looked after his funeral, and had him buried in a grave beside the poet Keats. His wife erected a tombstone to his memory, but this no longer exists.

Rothwell married in 1842 Rosa, daughter of Dr. Andrew Marshall, a Belfast physician, who bore him several children and survived him.

Rothwell exhibited in the Royal Academy from 1830 to 1862, and in the British Institution from 1832 to 1863, in the latter year sending two works from Belfast. He was a contributor to the Royal Hibernian Academy in various years from its opening exhibition in 1826 down to 1866, in the latter year sending from Rome his last exhibited work, "A Sketch, Souvenir of the Corso."

Rothwell, although his early life seemed to promise a brilliant future, never found any real or lasting success as an artist. Devoted to his art, his youth, as he says himself, "was given to the dream of a posthumous fame"; he had a high, an extravagant, opinion of his own powers as a painter which was hardly justified by his works, and his disposition and temperament militated against his success. His sensitive nature made him feel acutely the want of patronage and appreciation of his works, and the slights and unfair treatment which he considered he had been subjected to by the members of the Royal Academy. He was a difficult man to get on with, prone to take offence, and his wrongheadedness and peculiar temper brought him into collision with his brother artists both in London and in Dublin.

Rothwell's works include the following:

Portrait of Himself. [National Gallery of Ireland.] Belonged to his sister, Mrs. Sarah Watson Dickson (d. 1901), from whom it was purchased for the Gallery.

Portrait of Himself. [Mrs. A. W. H. Rothwell, 6 Churchill Street, Liverpool.]

Portrait of Himself. [Sir Andrew M. Porter, Bart.]

Portrait of Himself. [Dr. Minchin, 4 Kenilworth Road, Dublin.]

Portrait of Himself. [Belfast Art Gallery.]

Portrait of Himself. Christie's, 4th December, 1911.

Portrait of Himself. Christie's, 17th June, 1912.

Portrait of Himself. Christie's, 29th November, 1912; collection of Captain Ker, of Montalto, Ballynahinch.

Mrs. Rothwell, the artist's wife, as "A Flower Girl." [J. Rothwell, Blackheath, Coleraine.] Lithographed by J. S. Templeton.

Mrs. Rothwell. Christie's, 17th June, 1912.

Mrs. Allen and child. R.A., 1847.

Mrs. Barwell, a sketch. R.A., 1837.

Sir William Beechey, R.A. R.H.A.,1835. Christie's, 20th July, 1906.

Field-Marshal Viscount Beresford. R.A., 1836.

Field-Marshal Viscount Beresford. [National Portrait Gallery.] R.A., 1832.

Lord George Beresford. Painted in 1831.

Thomas Birchall. R.A., 1844.

Hon. Hans Blackwood. R.H.A., 1828.

Rt. Hon. Maziere Brady, Lord Chancellor. R.H.A., 1850.

Rt. Hon. Maziere Brady, Lord Chancellor. R.A., 1851; R.H.A., 1852.

Dupré, 2nd Earl of Caledon, K.P. Engraved in mezzotint by C. Turner.

John Carstairs. R.A., 1837.

John Chambers. R.H.A., 1848.

Captain Lord Arthur Chichester. R.H.A., 1829.

Lord Hamilton Chichester. [Countess of Shaftesbury.] R.H.A., 1828.

Henry Grafton Clark, Surgeon at the Massachusetts Hospital. Painted in Boston in 1855.

Lt.-Colonel D'Aguilar. R.A., 1830.

Lady Dover. Engraved in mezzotint by T. Hodgetts, 1829.

Colonel Lord Downes, K.C.B. R.A., 1830.

Hans, 1st Lord Dufferin. [Marquess of Dufferin, Clandeboye.]

James, 2nd Lord Dufferin. [Marquess of Dufferin, Clandeboye.] R.H.A., 1828.

Anne, Lady Dufferin. [Marquess of Dufferin, Clandeboye.] R.H.A., 1828. Engraved in mezzotint by T. Hodgetts.

William Farren. R.H.A., 1829. [National Portrait Gallery.]

Viscount Ferrard. R.H.A., 1829.

George Field, author of works on chromatic science. R.A., 1839. Engraved by D. Lucas, 1845.

E. F. Flower. R.A., 1860.

Mrs. W. Foster and children—"The Morning Lesson." R.A., 1851.

David Gordon. R.H.A., 1829.

Mrs. Gordon. R.H.A., 1829.

George Grierson. R.H.A., 1848.

Gerald Griffin. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Captain Basil Hall, R.N. Painted in Rome in 1833. R.A., 1835.

Dr. Heberden. R.A., 1843.

Children of John Charles Herbert, of Muckross. R.A., 1831; R.H.A., 1832.

Miss Constantia Van Holst. R.A., 1832.

Lady Howard de Walden. Christie's, 17th June, 1912.

Rt. Hon. William Huskisson, M.P. Painted in 1829 for Edward Littleton, afterwards Lord Hatherton. In a letter to the painter, dated 6th December, 1830, Littleton writes: "I am delighted with the resemblance and the painting. You have caught him at the happiest moment, and it would have been impossible to have obtained greater success." R.A., 1831. Engraved in mezzotint by T. Hodgetts; also by W. Holl.

Rt. Hon. William Huskisson, M.P. A replica of last, painted for the Earl of Egremont. [National Portrait Gallery.]

Major Johnston. R.A., 1831.

Rev. James Jones. R.H.A., 1828.

John Kaye, Bishop of Lincoln. R.A., 1832.

Matthew Kendrick. R.H.A. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Duchess of Kent. R.A., 1832.

Miss Knowles, daughter of Sheridan Knowles. [R. C. J. Nixon, Belfast.]

John Lawless. [F. J. Bigger, Ardrie, Belfast.]

H. S. H. Prince of Leiningen. R.A., 1831.

Dr. McCabe. R.H.A., 1826.

Andrew Marshall, M.D., of Belfast. [Sir Andrew M. Porter, Bart., Donnycarney House, Co. Dublin.]

Mrs. Marshall, née Drummond. [Sir Andrew M. Porter, Bart., Donnycarney House, Co. Dublin.]

Sir Stephen May. R.H.A., 1829.

Sir Gore Ouseley, Bart. Engraved by H. Cook for Jerdan's "National Portrait Gallery," 1835.

James Parke, Justice of the Queen's Bench, afterwards Lord Wensleydale. R.A., 1832.

Robert H., 12th Earl of Pembroke. [Earl of Pembroke, Wilton House, Salisbury.] Ascribed in Wilton House catalogue to A. E. Chalon.

George Henry Pitt. R.H.A., 1826.

William C. Lord Plunket, Lord Chancellor. [Lord Rathmore.] R.A., 1843; R.H.A., 1844. Engraved by D. Lucas. A copy belongs to Lord Plunket at Old Connaught.

Rev. John Scott Porter, of Belfast. R.A., 1845.

Mrs. John Scott Porter. On panel. [Sir Andrew M. Porter, Bart., Donnycarney House, Co. Dublin.]

James Prior, author of "Lives of Burke and Goldsmith." R.A., 1854.

George Robinson. R.H.A., 1827.

Archibald Hamilton Rowan. [G. W. Rowan Hamilton, Killyleagh.] R.H.A., 1826.

Mrs. Shelley (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin). [National Portrait Gallery.] R.A., 1840.

James Sims, editor of the "Northern Whig," and afterwards proprietor of the "Belfast Mercury." Painted for the Canons of Durham. R.A., 1851; R.H.A., 1852.

Miss Stanford of the Theatre Royal, Dublin. R.H.A., 1826.

Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, Bart., M.P. R.A., 1830.

Mrs. Thompson. [The Misses Thompson, Belfast.] R.H.A., 1843.

Thorwaldsen. A sketch. R.A., 1839.

Sir Coutts Trotter, Bart. R.A., 1835.

Hon. Colonel Ward. R.H.A., 1828.

W. Watson. [J. Rothwell, Blackheath, Coleraine.]

Mrs. Harriet Waylett, née Cooke, actress. Christie's, 9th May, 1910.

George Campbell Williams. Painted about 1827. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Mrs. George Campbell Williams and her infant son, afterwards Canon G. C. Williams of Hastings, Blackrock, Co. Dublin. Painted about 1826. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Richard William Wynne, Lt.-Colonel Denbighshire Militia. Engraved in mezzotint by H. Cousins, 1836.

A Lady and child. [Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.]

St. Sebastian. R.I. Inst., 1815.

Roman Charity. R.I. Inst., 1815.

Morning off the Coast of Sussex. R.H.A., 1826.

Beatrice. R.H.A., 1826.

An Irish Peasant Boy and Dog. R.H.A., 1826.

The Painter Forgotten. R.H.A., 1826.

Summer Day. R.H.A., 1826.

Peasant Girl of Avondale. R.H.A., 1827.

The Young Enthusiast. R.H.A., 1828.

The Sisters, a sketch. R.H.A., 1829.

Henrietta, a study, B.I., 1832.

The Villager. B.I., 1832.

Kate Kearney. R.H.A., 1835.

A Study, December, 1834, from the contemporary and friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough, Wilson, etc. B.I., 1835.

An Italian Girl. R.H.A., 1835.

A Roman Street. B.I., 1835.

Calabrian Itinerants, a sketch. R.A., 1836; B.I., 1837.

The Poor Mendicants. R.A., 1837; B.I., 1838, as "The Mendicants"; R.H.A., 1838, as "Novitiate Mendicants." Engraved under the latter title by Samuel Sangster for the Royal Irish Art Union, 1841, and by H. Bourne in "Art Journal," 1872. [Victoria and Albert Museum, Sheepshanks' collection.]

A Remembrance. R.A., 1838; B.I., 1839; R.H.A., 1840.

A Study, "What's in a Name." B.I., 1839.

A Literal Drawing after Nature, "Balmy Sleep, nature's soft nurse." R.A., 1839; R.H.A., 1841.

A Sketch, call it what you like. R.A., 1841.

Portrait of a Florentine Lady. R.A., 1842.

The Very Picture of Idleness. [Victoria and Albert Museum, Sheepshanks' collection.]

The Gentle Page, a study. [H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught.] R.H.A., 1842. Purchased by the R.I. Art Union, 1842, for £20, and won as a prize by C. Robinson, Arley Cottage, Leinster Road, Dublin. Was afterwards in the collection of Nugent Robinson and of John Malcolmson, Pembroke Road, Dublin.

The Little Roamer, [Victoria and Albert Museum, Sheepshanks' collection.] R.A., 1843.

Flower Girl, Piazza Navona. R.H.A., 1843.

A Flower Seller. [F. A. C. Mills, Cliftonville, Belfast.] Painted in 1844.

The Mother's Pastime. R.A., 1844; R.H.A., 1845. Purchased by the R.I. Art Union for £120, and given as first prize to P. Wallis, Killiney.

A Roadside Sketch; Peasant Girl. B.I., 1846.

Sympathy; Harem Captives. R.A., 1846; R.H.A., 1848.

Study of a Child. R.A., 1848. Perhaps the Study of a Smiling Child in National Gallery of Ireland.

A Sketch from the Painter's Window. R.A., 1848.

Evenings at Home. R.A., 1849.

A Study from Nature: Scene, an Irish village with its convent, its castle and its hovels. B.I., 1851.

Glendalough: guides on the look-out for tourists. R.A., 1852.

The Christmas Carol interrupted. R.A., 1852.

Maternal Solicitude. R.A., 1853.

Child and Fruit. R.H.A., 1853.

Contemplation. B.I., 1854.

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for ever. B.I., 1854.

Addio pro Sempre, a Remembrance of the Carnival. R.A., 1858.

Il Ventaglio. B.I., 1858.

Vale of Glendalough. B.I., 1858.

The Pastime, the Woods of Rocco di Papa, B.I., 1860.

The Student's Aspiration. R.A., 1862.

Grand Canal, Venice. R.H.A., 1860.

Glendalough, study from nature. R.H.A., 1860.

Rome, from the Esquiline Hill. R.H.A., 1860.

The Art Student building her Castle, mayhap a vision. B.I., 1863.

The Rale Colleen, "we all have seen her in the pantomime." B.I., 1863.

Calisto (3 ft. 6 in. by 5 ft. 4 in.). B.I., 1839.

Study of a Picture of Calisto. R.H.A., 1840.

Calisto (3 ft. by 3 ft. 8 in.). [National Gallery of Ireland.] In the National Gallery of Ireland are two letters from Rothwell addressed to G. F. Mulvany, then Secretary and afterwards Director of the Gallery, expressing his desire that the picture should be acquired by the Gallery. In the first letter, dated Leamington, 12th July, 1860, he says: "I have done with passion for Art. My youth was given to the dream of a posthumous fame, to leave something that would outlive me was my proudest aspiration; and now having wound up my knowledge on a picture which was intended by a late friend to have it presented by him to the National Gallery, he died suddenly before his will was legalized, the picture returned to me and I intend to have it seen in Dublin. I think it a work carried as far as modern art has gone, and I should like it to be preserved in your National Gallery. The picture is my Calisto, which I have gone over again and again, adding to, and pruning, until it has arrived at that state of PERFECTION on which my judgment cannot add another touch." In the second letter, dated 23rd July, 1860, he says: "I show this picture of Calisto as one for delicacy, for beauty of colour, drawing and richness of background as equal to anything which we poor moderners can exhibit, and I should like it to take its place in a National Gallery, and for that reason I sent it to Dublin......You can scarcely form any idea of the time which I bestowed on my Calisto, model after model, whenever I found one that I thought would add a hair's breadth to its refinement." The picture, however, did not then come to the Gallery, its acquisition does not appear to have been considered by the Board. In 1862, Rothwell sent it to the International Exhibition in London, where it was so badly placed as to call forth an indignant protest from the artist. Nothing is known of its whereabouts subsequently until, in 1901,it was in the possession of Shepherd Brothers of King Street, London, from whom it was purchased for the National Gallery of Ireland for £40.

Titian, a chalk drawing. [National Gallery of Ireland, Miss Callwell's Bequest.] R.H.A., 1842. Inscribed in the artist's writing: "Sketched from the unique Terra-cotta Bust of Titians for the purpose of carrying out the generous impulse of — Callwell, Esq., in furtherance of the now almost dormant taste for gem engraving, the acceptance of which is requested by Richard Rothwell."

St. John the Baptist; unfinished. [Mr. Rothwell, Blackheath, Coleraine.]

The Coquette; unfinished. [J. Rothwell, Blackheath, Coleraine.]

Portrait of a Pet Dog. [J. Rothwell, Blackheath, Coleraine.]

View of the Vatican. [J. Rothwell, Blackheath, Coleraine.]

St. Mark's, Venice. [J. Rothwell, Blackheath, Coleraine.]

Mother and Child. Belonged in 1857 to William Sohier of Boston, U.S.A., a friend of the painter.

Souvenir of the Corso. R.H.A., 1866.

Girl at a Window. Belonged to Shepherd Brothers, King Street, London, in 1908.

Dressed for the Ball. Sold by Winstanley and Son, Liverpool, 1854, for 40 guineas.

The Opera Box. Sold by H. Walker, Liverpool, in 1854.


* "Letters addressed to the Right Honourable the Earl Granville, K.G., President of the Directors of the International Exhibition, 1862, containing an appeal against the injustice and partiality of the persons to whom the hanging of the pictures was entrusted. By Richard Rothwell, Honorary Member, R.H.A." Dublin: printed and published by John Chambers and Son, 36 Dame Street, 1862.

Her eldest sister Margaret married the Rev. John Scott Porter, and was mother of the Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew Marshall Porter, Bart., late Master of the Rolls in Ireland.

« John Ross | Contents and Search | Nathaniel Rourke »