seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Martin Archer Shee, Portrait Painter

martin-archer-sheeSir Martin Archer Shee, portrait painter and president of the Royal Academy of Arts, is born in Dublin on December 23, 1769.

Shee is born into an old Irish Catholic family, the son of Martin Shee, a merchant, who regards the profession of a painter as an unsuitable occupation for a descendant of the Shees. He nevertheless studies art in the Royal Dublin Society and comes to London. There, in 1788, he is introduced by Edmund Burke to Joshua Reynolds, on whose advice he studies in the schools of the Royal Academy of Arts.

In 1789 Shee exhibits his first two pictures, the “Head of an Old Man” and “Portrait of a Gentleman.” Over the next ten years he steadily increases in practice. In 1798 he is chosen an associate of the Royal Academy and in 1800 he is elected a Royal Academician. He moves to George Romney‘s former house at 32 Cavendish Square and sets up as his successor.

Shee continues to paint with great readiness of hand and fertility of invention, although his portraits are eclipsed by more than one of his contemporaries, and especially by Thomas Lawrence. His earlier portraits are carefully finished, easy in action, with good drawing and excellent discrimination of character. They show an undue tendency to redness in the flesh painting, a defect which is still more apparent in his later works, in which the handling is less square, crisp and forcible. In addition to his portraits, he executes various subjects and historical works, such as Lavinia, Belisarius, his diploma picture “Prospero and Miranda,” and the “Daughter of Jephthah.”

In 1805 Shee publishes a poem consisting of Rhymes on Art, and a second part follows in 1809. Lord Byron speaks well of it in his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. He publishes another small volume of verse in 1814, entitled The Commemoration of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and other Poems, but this is less successful. He also produces a tragedy, Alasco, set in Poland. The play is accepted at Covent Garden, but is refused a licence, on the grounds that it contains treasonable allusions, and Shee angrily resolves to make his appeal to the public. He carries out his threat in 1824, but Alasco is still on the list of unacted dramas in 1911. He also publishes two novels – Oldcourt (1829, in three volumes) and Cecil Hyde (1834).

On the death of Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1830, Shee is chosen president of the Royal Academy in his stead and shortly afterwards receives a knighthood. In 1831 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In an examination before the parliamentary committee of 1836 concerning the functions of the Royal Academy, he ably defends its rights. He continues to paint until 1845, when illness makes him retire to Brighton. He is deputised for at the Academy by J. M. W. Turner, who had appointed him a trustee of the projected Turner almshouse.

From 1842–1849, Shee is the first president of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

Martin Archer Shee dies in Brighton, Sussex, England on August 13, 1850 and is buried in the western extension to St. Nicholas’ Churchyard in Brighton. His headstone remains but has been laid flat and moved to the perimeter of the site.


Leave a comment

Birth of Melesina Trench, Writer, Poet & Diarist

melesina-trenchMelesina Trench (née Chenevix), Irish writer, poet and diarist, is born in Dublin on March 22, 1768. During her lifetime she is known more for her beauty than her writing. It is not until her son, Richard Chenevix Trench, publishes her diaries posthumously in 1861 that her work receives notice.

Melesina Chenevix is born to Philip Chenevix and Mary Elizabeth Gervais. She is orphaned before her fourth birthday and is brought up by her paternal grandfather, Richard Chenevix (1698–1779), the Anglican Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. The family is of Huguenot extraction.

After the death of Richard Chenevix she goes to live with her other grandfather, the Archdeacon Gervais. On October 31, 1786 she marries Colonel Richard St. George, who dies only four years later in Portugal, leaving one son, Charles Manners St. George, who becomes a diplomat.

Between 1799 and 1800, Melesina travels around Europe, especially Germany. It is during these travels that she meets Lord Horatio Nelson, Lady Hamilton and the cream of European society, including Antoine de Rivarol, Lucien Bonaparte, and John Quincy Adams while living in Germany. She later recounts anecdotes of these meetings in her memoirs.

On March 3, 1803 in Paris she marries her second husband, Richard Trench, who is the sixth son of Frederick Trench and brother of Frederick Trench, 1st Baron Ashtown.

After the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens, Richard Trench is detained in France by Napoleon‘s armies, and in August 1805 Melesina takes it upon herself to petition Napoleon in person and pleads for her husband’s release. Her husband is released in 1807 and the couple settles at Elm Lodge in Bursledon, Hampshire, England.

Their son, Francis Chenevix Trench, is born in 1805. In 1807, when they are on holiday in Dublin, their son Richard Chenevix Trench is born. He goes on to be the Archbishop of Dublin, renowned poet and contemporary of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Her only daughter dies a few years later at the age of four.

Trench corresponds with, amongst others, Mary Leadbeater, with whom she works to improve the lot of the peasantry at her estate at Ballybarney. She dies at the age of 59 in Malvern, Worcestershire on May 27, 1827.

Melesina Trench’s diaries and letters are compiled posthumously by Richard Chenevix Trench as The remains of the late Mrs. Richard Trench in 1861 with an engraving of her taken from a painting by George Romney. Another oil painting, The Evening Star by Sir Thomas Lawrence, has her as a subject, and she is reproduced in portrait miniatures – one in Paris by Jean-Baptiste Isabey and another by Hamilton that is copied by the engraver Francis Engleheart.

Copies of a number of her works are held at Chawton House Library.

(Pictured: “Melesina Chenevix, Mrs. George, later Mrs. Trench,” attributed to George Romney (British, 1734–1802), oil on canvas)