Francis Danby, Irish painter of the Romantic era, is born near Killinick, County Wexford, on November 16, 1793. His imaginative, dramatic landscapes are comparable to those of John Martin. Danby initially develops his imaginative style while he is the central figure in a group of artists who have come to be known as the Bristol School. His period of greatest success is in London in the 1820s.
The death of Danby’s father in 1807 causes the family to move to Dublin. He begins to practice drawing at the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools and, under an erratic young artist named James Arthur O’Connor, he begins painting landscapes. Danby also makes acquaintance with George Petrie.
In 1813 Danby leaves for London together with O’Connor and Petrie. This expedition, undertaken with very inadequate funds, quickly comes to an end, and they have to get home again by walking. At Bristol they make a pause and Danby, finding he can get trifling sums for watercolor drawings, remains there working diligently and sending pictures of importance to the London exhibitions. There his large oil paintings quickly attract attention.
Around 1819, Danby becomes a member of the informal group of artists which become known as the Bristol School, taking part in their evening sketching meetings and sketching excursions visiting local scenery. He remains connected with members of the Bristol School for about a decade, even after leaving Bristol in 1824.
The group initially forms around Edward Bird, and Danby eventually succeeds Bird as its central figure. The Bristol artists, particularly the amateur Francis Gold, are also important in influencing Danby towards a more imaginative and poetical style. George Cumberland, another of the amateurs, has influential London connections. In 1820 when Danby exhibits The Upas Tree of Java at the British Institution, Cumberland uses his influence to promote its favourable reception. Danby’s atmospheric work An Enchanted Island, successfully exhibited in 1825 at the British Institution and then back in Bristol at the Bristol Institution, is in turn particularly influential on other Bristol School artists.
The Upas Tree of Java (1820) and The Delivery of Israel (1825) bring him his election as an Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Arts. He leaves Bristol for London, and in 1828 exhibits his Opening of the Sixth Seal at the British Institution, receiving from that body a prize of 200 guineas.
In 1829 Danby’s wife deserts him, running off with the painter Paul Falconer Poole. Danby leaves London, declaring that he will never live there again. For a decade he lives on the Lake Geneva in Switzerland, becoming a Bohemian with boat-building fancies, painting only occassionaly. He later moves to Paris for a short period of time. He returns to England in 1840.
Francis Danby lives his final years at Exmouth in Devon, where he dies on February 9, 1861. Along with John Martin and J. M. W. Turner, Danby is considered among the leading British artists of the Romantic period.