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Details & Cataloguing

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns

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London

Maria Spilsbury Taylor
1776-1820
PORTRAIT OF HENRY GRATTAN MP, IN A LIBRARY

Provenance

Dillon Antiques, Dublin, 1984

Exhibited

Boston, Boston College Museum of Art, America’s Eye: Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 26 January - 19 May 1996, no.23, illustrated p.100, with tour to Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 19 June - 25 August 1996 and New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 25 September 1997 - 4 January 1998;  Washington, John F. Kennedy Center, Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 13 - 28 May 2000, illustrated, p.93;
Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, A Century of Irish Painting: Selections from the Brian P. Burns Collection, 3 March - 29 April 2007, illustrated, p.95;

Literature

Thomas J. O’Gorman, ‘For All the World to See: The Brian Burns Collection’ in The World of Hibernia, Summer 1996, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Maria Spilsbury Taylor’s portrait of Henry Grattan shows him standing in a library, his right hand resting on a volume; a history of Ireland. In his other hand, he holds a scroll, possibly one of the many petitions and bills he advocated, seeking Catholic Emancipation. A similar portrait, by Alexander Pope, published as an engraving in 1814, shows Grattan holding such a petition. Pope depicted Grattan in a Classical setting, rather than the Gothic-Revival library depicted by Spilsbury Taylor. Although the location of this library is not known, it may have been in Grattan’s town house, or at his country estate at Tinnehinch. Another possibility is Rosanna House in Wicklow, home of the Tighe family.

Born in Dublin, in 1746, Grattan was a brilliant politician and orator, who, in his mid-thirties, backed by the Protestant Volunteer movement, declared an independent parliament for Ireland. “Grattan’s Parliament” did not last long however, and when rebellion broke out in 1798, he was blamed by conservatives for having stirred up resentment against the status quo. He opposed the Act of Union in 1800, but this did not prevent him from later sitting as a MP in London. However, while he continued his efforts on behalf of Ireland, his great days as a parliamentarian were over, and he died in 1820. Although Spilsbury Taylor’s portrait has been dated to circa 1817, it depicts Grattan much younger than in Pope’s portrait, and so it can be conjectured that Spilsbury Taylor had visited Ireland more than once, before settling in Dublin in 1813; or she could well have painted the portrait in London.

Born in Great Ormond Street, London, Spilsbury Taylor was the daughter of the mezzotint engraver Jonathan Spilsbury (fl.1760-1790), from whom she learned the art of painting and engraving. As her father was an occasional preacher in the Moravian church, and her mother a friend of John Wesley, she was brought up within a strict Protestant evangelical tradition. While still in her teens, she exhibited portraits and genre scenes at the Royal Academy and the British Institution; the themes often inspired by her Zinzendorfian education. Among them were, The House of Protection for Destitute Females of Character; Two Girls Applying for Admission, a subject that emphasised her belief in Christian charity, and a series of paintings; The Stolen Child Discovered amid the Crew of Gipsies, The Beadle Restores the Child to the Family and The Lost Child Found, and the Felicity of the Nursery Restored.

In 1789, Spilsbury Taylor was taken by her parents to Ireland, where they stayed for a year at the Rosanna (or Rossanagh) estate in Ashford, Co. Wicklow, with Sarah Tighe, another friend of Wesley. Back in England, in 1808 she and John Taylor were married, however after the failure of his family firm, she was obliged to provide income for the family. In 1813, they moved to Dublin, where she continued to paint portraits and landscape scenes. She had a keen eye for society, at all levels, and her painting The Patron’s Day at the Seven Churches, Glendalough (National Gallery of Ireland) is the visual equivalent of a novel, providing vivid images of travelling traders, pilgrims, revellers and members of the aristocracy, all in the same setting; the painting containing a clear moral message about the education of the young. Also in the National Gallery is a portrait by her of Henrietta Grattan, née Fitzgerald, who was married to Henry Grattan. Spilsbury Taylor died in 1820, of complications following a miscarriage, during her fifth pregnancy. Her son, Rev. John William Augustus Taylor, later became headmaster of the Rookery school in Oxford. [See Charlotte Yeldham Maria Spilsbury Taylor (1776-1820) Artist and Evangelical. (Routledge, 2010)].

Peter Murray

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns

|
London