William Esdall, Engraver

(d. 1795)


From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Practised for many years in Dublin as an engraver, chiefly of book illustrations. He was the son of James Esdall of Cork Hill, printer, and received instruction in the Dublin Society's School, which he entered in 1766. His name first appears as an artist in 1772, when he exhibited drawings in Indian ink at the Society of Artists in William Street, his address being given as "at Mr. Peter Johnston's, Mary Lane." In 1777 his address was 11 Mary's Lane, and in that year he was admitted to the freedom of the Guild of St. Luke. He was afterwards at Temple-Bar Court, and from 1794 he resided at 3 Gordon's Lane, Ranelagh. His work as an engraver is to be found in the various contemporary magazines, especially in Exshaw's "London Magazine" between 1774 and 1794, and in the "Hibernian Magazine" on which he was regularly employed for many years. A folding plate of "Frederick II, King of Prussia, reviewing his Troops," is in that magazine for September, 1779.

His best work will be found in many of the books published in Dublin at the end of the century, charming little vignettes and tail-pieces, often from his own drawings, which show him to have been a good draughtsman as well as a skilful engraver. Excellent examples of his work with the graver are in William Preston's "Poetical Works," published in 1793, by Graisberry and Campbell; three in the first volume and four in the second—two being after drawings by J. J. Barralet (q.v.). In the second volume the author apologizes for the delay in the appearance of his work, which, he says "proceeded entirely from the tediousness of artists whom I employed in the little embellishments of my publication." Equally charming illustrations are in "A Practical Treatise on Planting and Management of Woods and Coppices," by S. H. [i.e., Samuel Hayes of Avondale], published in 1794. The edition of Samuel Whyte's "Poems," published in 1795, has a vignette, title-page, tail-pieces and one plate, engraved by Esdall; and views of "The Ruins of Kilmallock" and "The Rock of Cashel" engraved by him are in Campbell's "Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland." He designed and engraved in 1790 the book-plate for the prizes given in Whyte's school. Other book-plates by him are: "John Nuttall," "Robert Kennedy Nuttall," "Michael Smith," "William Snell Magee," premium plates of "the Rev. Gilbert Armstrong's School," and "the Rev. Charles Barry's School, Rathmines," Barralet del. Esdall sculp.

Esdall died at his residence, 3 Gordon's Lane, Ranelagh, in March, 1795. He had suffered for many years from asthma, but his death was caused by the continued strain of attending upon his son, who was suffering from blindness and a lingering illness. In his will, dated 3rd March, 1795, he left all his working tools and all his "new and old copper" to Samuel Close, junr., engraver (q.v.), on condition that he finished the work then in hands, viz.: "Two pair of new, and two pair of old, plates for Jonathan Fisher." He named Jonathan Fisher (q.v.) as one of his executors, and Henry Graham (q.v.), Fisher's assistant, was one of the witnesses. Esdall's wife, Elizabeth Levinge, whom he married in 1775, was living at the date of the will.

A John Esdall, of Crow Street, issued an advertisement in 'Faulkner's Journal,' October, 1744, and describing himself as a "face painter," announced his intention of opening an academy for instruction in painting and drawing.

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