John Butts
18th Century Irish Landscape Artist: Biography & Paintings.

A Mountainous Wooded Landscape

John Butts (c.1728-65)

One of the finest early Irish landscape artists, John Butts specialized in river and woodland scenes. Very little biographical information is available about him, and his paintings are equally rare, giving art historians very little to go on. The London Tate Gallery boasts one Butts picture "A Mountainous Wooded Landscape", and one attributed to him - "Poachers: View in the Dargle." Due to this scarcity, his landscape painting is particularly valuable.

An Extensive River Landscape with
a Figure and Horse on a Path in
the Foreground

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Butts was born in County Cork and trained by Rogers, one of the earliest recorded painters in Ireland, specializing in landscape and rural views, whose better works were subsequently and popularly attributed to his pupil!

According to Walter Strickland, Butts spent his youth and nearly all of his twenties painting in Cork, where he produced impressive copies of wild local scenes and romantic views. Contemporaries remark on his outstanding treatment of light and shade and his skills in the use of colour.

About 1757, at the age of 30, he moved to Dublin, gaining work as a scene-painter at the Crow Street Theatre. By this time married with a large family, Butts tried hard to generate extra income through commissions for romantic landscape paintings and other figurative works. Unfortunately, his customary indiscipline and desire for alcohol kept him in a state of near poverty, forcing him to resort to peddling hack copies of alehouse scenes (excellently painted but sold for a pittance) and even painting signs and coach panels. Despite occasional assistance - in 1763 the Dublin Society paid six guineas for one of his landscapes - he died in poverty and distress in 1765. Afterwards, a sorrowful James Barry paid his friend the following compliment in a letter: "His example and works were my first guide and was what enamoured me with art itself."


Butts influenced several other famous Irish painters like George Barret Senior and James Barry, although his impact on others is known only through hearsay, as his painting activities are almost unknown. If other works by John Butts were unearthed, they might tell us more about his style of art and how perhaps it influenced other Irish landscape painters of the mid-eighteenth century.

There are no Butts pictures in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, or any of the municipal collections of Irish painting.

More Information About Visual Arts in Ireland

• For biographies of other early painters, see: 18th Century Irish Artists.
• For details of other creative practitioners from Ireland, see: Irish Artists: Painters and Sculptors.
• For more about 18th century artists like John Butts, see: Irish Art Guide.
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