William Mulready
19th Century Irish Artist, Genre-Painter: Biography, Paintings.

Female Nude. By William Mulready.
One of the great Irish Artists of the
19th Century.

William Mulready (1786-1863)

Along with Daniel Maclise (1808-70), the genre-painter William Mulready is regarded as one of the most outstanding native Irish artists of the nineteenth century.

Born in Ennis, County Clare, into a poor family who emigrated to London when he was six, Mulready remained sensitive about his humble origins and did his best to conceal his Irishness for the rest of his life. After studying drawing from sculpture for a year with the sculptor Thomas Banks, he attended the Royal Academy schools with great success, winning the silver palette of the Society of Arts in 1802. An early marriage, two years later, to the artist-sister of John Varley (1778-1843) the English landscape painter failed after six years, due to his tendency to violence and immoral conduct. (Interestingly, all four of his children, went on to become painters.)


Despite these personal difficulties, Mulready's art career went from strength to strength. Initially supporting himself by working as a drawing teacher and illustrator of several children's books, in 1804 he began exhibiting landscapes at the Royal Academy. Following these with a series of history paintings and Dutch-style subject works, in 1815 he was elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy and a full Academician a year later. In 1817 he began a 45-year association with the Royal Hibernian Academy, with whom he exhibited every year until 1862. Renowned for his hard work in the Life School of the Academy, he himself stated that he drew on every occasion "as if I were drawing for the prize." As an artist, Mulready was an exemplary draughtsman, noted for his carefully worked compositions, harmonious palette, excellent depiction of texture and a meticulous, polished finish.

Although most famous for his moralistic subject paintings - which in both composition and colour anticipated the later Pre-Raphaelite movement - Mulready also produced several outstanding nudes. Indeed, his series of chaste nude studies was much admired by Queen Victoria. In addition, he painted numerous high quality watercolour landscapes as well as a number of exquisite and keenly observed interiors and genre paintings, in the style of Dutch masters. He was greatly admired on the Continent, being awarded the Legion d'honneur after exhibiting at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, in 1855. See also: English Figurative Painting 18th/19th Century.

Most Expensive Painting By William Mulready

The auction record for a work by William Mulready was set in 2007, when his genre painting, entitled The Roadside Inn, was sold at Christie's, in London, for £7,500.

• For more biographies of Irish artists, see: Homepage.
• For the evolution of Irish subject painting, see History of Irish Art.
• For more about fine arts in Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For a summary of genre works, see Irish Genre Painters.

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