Daniel Maclise

Showing my utter ignorance of the art world, no doubt, I had not heard of this important English artist of his period….by the sound of it, his relationship with Dickens did him no favours at the time, or from the point of view of prosterity.

Nancy Weston (St Cloud State University, Minnesota) says:

Dickens eulogized his former friend at the Royal Academy banquet in words that have come to define and limit Maclise as;

The gentlest and most modest of men, the freest as to his generous appreciation of young aspirants, and the frankest and large-hearted as to his peers, incapable of a sordid or ignoble thought, gallantly sustaining the true dignity of his vocation, without one grain of self assertion, wholesomely natural at the last as at the first.

Flattering as these works seem, they were soon twisted by the more private remarks that Dickens made to John Forster and his daughter Kate. The result has been that Dickens’ biographers have unfairly concluded that Daniel Maclise was wayward, lazy, moody and solipsistic. A general aura of immorality and insufficiency have been attached to the man because of his friendship with Dickens. This unfair portrayal of the sensitive, hardworking Irish artist is the result of an over-reliance on Dickens’ impressions complicated by cultural and personal misunderstandings. Daniel Maclise deserves to be remembered as one of the finest artists of his day and as a charming and central figure of the Victorian cultural world.

The more I read about Dickens, the harder it is to like the man.


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