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)].
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