Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of William Henry Ireland (1777-1835) 1790c.

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA (1769-1830)

Portrait of William Henry Ireland (1777-1835), Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA
Pencil on Paper
18th Century
5 1/2 x 4 3/4 in 14 x 12 cm
Major Sir Charles Pym, Foxwold House, Kent.
Kent Portrait Survey (Brasted 6) 1970 as a portrait of Mr Ireland by Lawrence
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Like Thomas Chatterton before him, William Ireland enjoyed a considerable celebrity as the ''discoverer'' of lost Shakespearean drama. In 1795 he was acclaimed by the worlds of Society and literature for unearthing the plays Vortigern, Rowena and Henry II. The former was produced by Sheridan at Drury Lane in September of that year as an authentic work by Shakespeare, and the great Philip Kemble took the lead role. The remorseless probing of the sceptical resulted in Ireland''s exposure in the following year, and by 1 Dec. 1797 Gillray had published a sketch of Ireland as ''Notorious Characters, No. I.,''

This particular importance of this drawing lies both in the fact that it almost certainly dates from 1795, Ireland's brief period of acclaim and plausibility (the only known portrait to do so) when he would have had ample opportunity of encountering Lawrence. In that year he was presented to the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Clarence and was clearly an associate of Kemble, Sheridan and Mrs Siddons, all of whom were patrons of Lawrence at this time.
Ireland's fascination with Shakespeare owed much to the interests of his father, Samuel Ireland the writer and engraver, who was a credulous admirer of the poet. His proclivities towards forgery were, however, entirely the product of his own chemistry: until his death the elder Ireland was a man of impeccable probity and believed his son to be the same. He read aloud to his son Herbert Croft's ''Love and Madness,'' and the story of Chatterton, with which part of the book deals, impressed him deeply.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.