Hugh Douglas Hamilton
Biography, Paintings of 18th Century Irish Portrait Artist.

Portrait of Francis Seymour Conway

Hugh Douglas Hamilton (c.1739–1808)

The Irish portrait painter Hugh Douglas Hamilton was born in Dublin, Ireland around 1724, the son of a peruke-maker. He studied drawing and painting under Robert West at the Royal Dublin Society art school in George's Lane, winning several awards, after which he began to specialize in small-scale portraiture in crayon and pastels. Typically oval in shape, his portraits were some 9 inches by 7 inches in size, outlined on grey paper in black and white and completed with coloured chalks. In general, his colour schemes were very simple, but his faces were always well-drawn, with expressive eyes.

In about 1764, Hamilton moved to London and gained rapid recognition for his narrative oil paintings (eg. Boadicea and her Daughters in Distress). He also painted a number of full-length portraits in crayons, which he duly exhibited at the Free Society of Artists.

Portrait of a Woman

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At the same time his customary portrait art proved as popular in England as it had been in Ireland, and his practice blossomed. His sitters included members of the British royal family, including Queen Charlotte (1746) and others, many portraits of whom are now resident in the British Royal Art Collection. (His charge for a full-length portrait was reportedly 120 guineas.) He also found time to exhibit with the Society of Artists and the Royal Academy.

Later, Hugh Hamilton later travelled to Italy, where he spent 12 years in Rome and Florence. Returning to Dublin, he now began to work chiefly in oils, executing portraits of many of Ireland's prominent historical figures of the period including Dean Kirwan, whose portrait is displayed at the Royal Dublin Society, as well as a number of British nobles including George John, 2nd Earl Spencer and Lady Hannah Cowper (1787), and the exiled Charles Edward Stuart (1785). He also produced a number of acclaimed classical history paintings, such as Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower, and showed at several venues in Dublin, including the Hibernian Society of Artists.

By 1805, general ill-heath forced Hamilton to curtail his portrait work, so he devoted himself to studying chemistry - another of his passions - and died three years later. His daughter Harriot was also an artist, whose main focus was copying the works of Old Masters.

Most Expensive Work by Hugh Douglas Hamilton

The auction record for a work by Hugh Douglas Hamilton was set in 2004, when his portrait painting, entitled Double Portrait Of Mary, Countess of Erne, with her daughter Lady Caroline Crichton, later Lady Wharncliffe, was sold at Christie's, in London, for £542,850.

More Information About Irish Painting

• For details of other portrait painters from Ireland, see: Irish Artists: Paintings and Biographies.
• For more about 18th century portrait painters like Hugh Douglas Hamilton, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For more about portraiture, see: Homepage.

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