William Cuming, Portrait Painter

(b. 1769, d. 1852)

Portrait Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

William Cuming. Picture, by E. D. Leahy; in the Royal Hibernian Academy.

Was the youngest of the four sons of William Cuming and his wife, née Hamilton, and was born in 1769. His grandfather, who married a Miss Semple, had been an officer in the army, and lived at Belturbet. William Cuming's bent for art showed itself at an early age, and he was placed as a pupil in the Dublin Society's Schools in 1785. There he gained a silver medal in 1790 for figure-drawing, and after going through his course established himself as a historical and portrait painter in Crow Street. He was probably the "Cummins" who exhibited "bas-reliefs in the style of De Gree" at Ellis's "Museum" in Mary Street in 1792, of whom the "Sentimental and Masonic Magazine" (1792) says: "An artist who at so early an age can produce such specimens of his abilities will probably ere long shine in the front line of his profession." In the following year he was commissioned by the Corporation of Dublin to paint the portrait of Alderman Henry Gore Sankey, the late Lord Mayor. This picture, which has been attributed erroneously to H. D. Hamilton, long hung in the Council Chamber in the City Hall, but was injured in the fire which occurred in 1908, and was afterwards "restored."

Cuming moved in 1795 to 34 Anglesea Street, the house of his brother Hugh, a public notary, and he resided there for some years. He advanced rapidly in his art; and when, in 1800, he made his first contributions to the exhibitions held by the artists of Dublin he was acclaimed as "a very rising genius. In this exhibition, held at 32 Dame Street, he had eleven portraits, including a half-length of "Mrs. Cresswell of the Theatre Royal"; and his pictures continued to appear at most of the exhibitions down to 1813. He was particularly esteemed for his female portraits; but his output was not great, and being independent of his own exertions he did not work very hard at his easel, but spent a good deal of time in visiting the continent. In 1808 he moved from Anglesea Street to No. 15 Clare Street, corner of Merrion Square, where he passed most of the rest of his life. In 1811 he was President of the Society of Artists in Dublin; and on the foundation of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1823 he was chosen one of its original Members. On the 2nd April, 1829, he was elected President, a position he held until October, 1832, when he resigned and retired from his profession. He however continued for some time his active interest in the affairs of the Academy, and was made Treasurer in 1835. In January, 1837, he resigned his Membership and was made an Honorary Member.

He exhibited in the Academy from its first exhibition in 1826 down to 1831, contributing in all fifteen pictures. In 1832, after he had resigned the Presidency, he paid a visit to his brother Josias, who owned large sugar plantations in the West Indies, and he remained away some time. In 1836 he took up his residence at No. 20 Lower Abbey Street; moving in 1844 to No. 31, a few doors from the Academy House. He died there after a few days' illness, on the 5th April, 1852, in the 85th year of his age, and was buried on the 9th at Mount Jerome, where a plain headstone, surmounted by an urn, marks his grave. By his will, made on the 19th July, 1841, when he was going to visit his brother Robert at Versailles, he left to the Royal Hibernian Academy one half of his prints and books of prints, and also whatever books might be in his collection on the subject of the Fine Arts.

Cuming was never married. His sister Elizabeth kept house for him in Clare Street and Abbey Street. He was fond of society, especially of artists and literary men; Petrie, Mulvany, Macready, and Tom Moore were frequent guests at his house; he was a great card-player, was fond of good living, and retained his activity and interest in life until the last. An ardent Repealer he was a great admirer of O'Connell, and had a particular detestation of Sir Robert Peel. A nephew, writing of him in 1844, thus describes him: "He was then in his 74th year, a very handsome old man with good features, aquiline nose, dark eyes and well-shaped head; very courteous in manner, clever, and a good talker; but at this time getting very deaf."

A portrait of him by E. D. Leahy is in the Council Room of the Royal Hibernian Academy. A Bust by T. Kirk was exhibited in the Academy in 1832. The silver medal won by him in 1790 is in the possession of Colonel Cuming, late A.S.C.


His own Portrait. Ex. Artists of Dublin, 1800.

Anne, Countess Annesley. Ex. Dublin, 1803.

Richard, 2nd Earl Annesley. [Earl Annesley, Castle Wellan.] Ex. Dublin, 1811. Engraved in mezzotint by C. Turner, and published by Cuming at 34 Anglesea Street in 1806.

William Ashford, landscape painter. Ex. Dublin, 1800.

William Ashford, landscape painter. [Royal Hibernian Academy.] R.H.A., 1831.

Rev. W. Benson. Ex. Dublin, 1813.

— Blakeney. [J. Blakeney, Abbert, Galway.]

Mr. Bowdon. [Royal Dublin Society, Kildare Street.]

James, 1st Earl of Charlemont. [National Gallery of Ireland.] Painted for the Dublin Library, D'Olier Street. On the break-up of that institution it was sold, and was purchased for the Gallery.

Edward Cooke, Under Secretary. Engraved in mezzotint by W. Ward in 1799, and in stipple by J. Heath for Barrington's "Historic Memoirs."

Mrs. Cresswell of the Theatre Royal. Ex. Dublin, 1801. A half-length, seated.

Mrs. Crosthwaite, of Grafton Street. Ex. Dublin, 1800.

Elizabeth Cuming, the painter's sister. [Mrs. Hickson, 6 Clarence Lawn, Dover.]

Hugh Cuming, the painter's brother. [E. D. Cuming, London.]

Mrs. Hugh Cuming, when a girl; a sketch. [E. D. Cuming, London.]

John Cuming, the painter's brother. [Hon. Mrs. Flower, née Cuming, Vancouver.]

Josias Cuming, the painter's brother. [T. R. Blackley, Drumbar, Cavan.]

William Cuming, the painter's father. [E. D. Cuming, London.]

Mrs. Cuming, the painter's mother. [E. D. Cuming, London.]

Benjamin Disraeli, Lottery-office Keeper, etc., in Dublin. [Miss Fasson, Maiden Ash, Ongar.]

Sir John Doyle. Engraved in mezzotint by W. Ward, 1797.

R. Lovell Edgeworth. R.H.A., 1828.

Mr. Ferris, wine merchant. Ex. Dublin, 1800.

James Gandon, architect. Begun by Tilly Kettle, who painted the head only, during his short stay in Dublin, and finished by Cuming. (Tilly Kettle, an English portrait painter, born about 1740, who, becoming bankrupt in London about 1783, sought an asylum in Dublin, and spent a short time there. In 1786 he started on a visit to India where he had previously been—from 1770 to 1777—but died on his way at Aleppo.)

J. E. Grace. Ex. Dublin, 1813.

George Hall, Provost, t.c.d. [Provost's House, Trinity College.]

John Harden. [Late Colonel Harden, Colchester.] R.H.A., 1827.

Philip, Earl of Hardwicke, Lord Lieutenant. [Dublin Castle.]

Philip, Earl of Hardwicke, Lord Lieutenant. Painted in 1802. [Mansion House, Dublin.]

General Henniker. Ex. Artists of Dublin, 1800.

Edward Houghton, Legal Adviser to R.H.A. [Royal Hibernian Academy.] R.H.A., 1831; presented by the artist to the Academy same year.

Edward Hudson. [National Gallery of Ireland.] Painted in 1797; engraved by T. S. Engleheart.

Edward Hudson, (said to be his portrait). [Miss Fasson, Maiden Ash, Ongar.]

Godfrey James. R.H.A., 1826.

John Kearney, Provost, t.c d. [Provost's House, Trinity College.]

J. La Touche, Ex. Dublin, 1813.

John Machonchy. R.H.A., 1826.

Sir Capel Molyneux, Bart. Ex. Dublin, 1812.

Richard Murray, Provost, t.c.d. [Provost's House, Trinity College.]

Sir Neil O'Donel and his three grandchildren. Ex. Dublin, 1811.

Henry O'Hara. R.H.A., 1826.

Admiral Pellew. [Robert Walsh, 2 Wilton Terrace, Dublin.]

Dr. Plunkett, R.C. Bishop of Meath. Ex. Dublin, 1810.

George Renny, M.D., [College of Surgeons, Dublin.] Painted for the College in 1810.

Charles, 4th Duke of Richmond. [Mansion House, Dublin.] Presented by the artist to the City of Dublin. Signed, Pictor Guls Cuming 1813.

Alderman Henry Gore Sankey. [City Hall, Dublin.] Commissioned by the Corporation in 1792; the frame to be made by Justin Pope. Injured in the fire in the City Hall, 11th November, 1908. The scorched and tattered remains were sent to London and "restored." The picture has erroneously been ascribed to H. D. Hamilton.

Alderman Henry Gore Sankey, as Colonel of the Dublin Militia. Ex. Dublin, 1811.

Charles Thorp, Lord Mayor in 1800. Painted in 1801 at the expense of the Guild of Merchants, and presented to the Aldermen of Dublin. Ex. Artists of Dublin, 1802. This portrait, said to have been an excellent likeness and one of the best pictures in the city collection, was destroyed in the fire in the City Hall, 11th November, 1908.

Charles Thorp. R.H.A., 1831.

Dr. Tuke. Ex. Dublin, 1812.

James, Lord Tyrawley. Engraved in mezzotint by J. R. Smith, and published in 1802 by Cuming himself in Dublin.

General Vallancey. In sale of pictures chiefly the property of the Earl of Blessington, 13th November, 1838.

E. S. Veaitch, cousin of the painter, as "The Intent Politician." [Mrs. Grantham, White House, Epsom.]

Mr. Vernon of Clontarf. Ex. Dublin, 1800.

James Verschoyle, Dean of St. Patrick's, afterwards Bishop of Killala. [Deanery House, St. Patrick's.] Painted for the Deanery; Ex. Dublin, 1810.

Vincent Waldre, artist. Ex. Dublin, 1800.

T. Walker, of Dame Street. Ex. Dublin, 1800.

William Woodburn, artist. [Royal Hibernian Academy.] R.H.A., 1827. Presented to the Academy by the artist.

An Artist's Studio. Ex. Dublin, 1853, by Lord Cloncurry.

The Robbers. Ex. Dublin, 1812.

Portrait of a Student. Ex. Dublin, 1800. Bought by the Dublin Society for £11 7s. 6d.

Christ and Zebedee's Children. Engraved by J. Holloway for "Macklin's Bible," 1798.

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