Daniel MacDonald
19th Century Irish Artist: Biography, Drawings.

Discovery of the Potato Blight (Detail).
By Daniel MacDonald
One of the great Irish Artists of the
19th Century.

Daniel MacDonald (1821-53)

One of the few 19th century Irish painters to focus attention on the Great Famine in Ireland during the late 1840s, Daniel MacDonald (originally McDaniel) was born in Cork, the son of the caricaturist and draughtsman James McDaniel (c.1789-1840). Taught drawing at an early age by his father, MacDonald soon demonstrated his sketching skills, becoming noted for his pen and ink drawings including both portraiture and caricatures of local figures. When still only a young teenager, he had two etchings published in The Tribute, a Cork literary publication. In his early 20s, he began exhibiting at the Royal Hibernian Academy (1842-44), before leaving for London shortly after. Meanwhile the Famine (1846-51) had broken out in Ireland, during which MacDonald returned to paint one of the few pictures showing an actual scene from the famine. This genre painting, 'The Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of Their Store' was exhibited at the British Institution in 1847. Neither MacDonald's role in publicizing the tragedy - nor that of his fellow Cork artist James Mahoney (1810-79) - has ever been fully recognized.


MacDonald continued showing at the British Institution (1849-51). Two of his works - A Vision of the Sea, and The Gun of Distress - were also shown at the Cork Institution in 1852. Then in 1853 he exhibited for the first time at the London Royal Academy - a portrait of Mrs Edward Fulcher. It was at this point at the age of 32, just as his art was maturing, that he died of a fever.

A natural artist with outstanding drawing ability, he was proficient in a wide range of media, including chalks, pen and ink, pencil, watercolours and oils. His printmaking skills encompassed engraving (mezzotint) and etching. Drawings by MacDonald can be seen in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and the Crawford Gallery in Cork. His younger sister Jane MacDonald (c.1823-c.1875) was also an artist, and exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Cork Art Union in the 1840s and later.

• For more biographies, see: Homepage.
• For the evolution of Irish painting, see History of Irish Art.
• For more about fine arts in Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For a review of genre scene painting in Ireland, see Irish Genre Painters.
• For a summary of portraiture, see Irish Portrait Artists.

© visual-arts-cork.com. All rights reserved.