Shee, Sir Martin Archer
royal academy portraits
SHEE, SIR MARTIN ARCHER (1770-1850), portrait-painter, and president of the Royal Academy, was born in Dublin on the 23d of December 1770. He was sprung from an old Irish family, and his father, while he exercised the trade of a merchant, regarded the profession of a painter as in no sense a fit occupation for a descendant of the Shees. Young Shee became, nevertheless, a student of art in the Dublin Society, and came early to London, where he was, in 1788, introduced by Burke to Reynolds, by whose advice he studied in the schools of the Royal Academy. In 1789 he exhibited his first two pictures, the Head of an Old Man and Portrait of a Gentleman. During the next ten years he steadily increased in practice, and gradually gained ground among the aristocracy, with whom his suavity and good manners were great recommendations. He was chosen an associate of the Royal Academy in 1798, shortly after the illustrious Flaxman, and in 1800 he was made a Royal Academician. In the former year he had married, removed to Romney's house in Cavendish Square, and set up as the legitimate successor of that artist. Shee continued to paint with great readiness of hand and fertility of invention, although his portraits were eclipsed by more than one of his contemporaries, and especially by Lawrence, Hoppner, Phillips, Jackson, and Raeburn. In addition to his portraits he executed various subjects and historical works, such as Lavinia, Belisarius, his diploma picture Prospero and Miranda, and the Daughter of Jephthah. In 1805 he published a poem consisting of Rhymes on Art, and it was succeeded by a second part in 1809. Although Byron spoke well of it in his English, Bards and Scotch Reviewers, and invoked a place for "Shee and genius" in the temple of fame, yet, as nature had not originally conjoined these two, it is to be feared that even a. poet's invocation could not materially affect their relations. Shee published another small volume of verses in 1814, entitled The Commemoration of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and other Poems, but this effort did not greatly increase his fame. He now produced a tragedy called Alasco, of which the scene was laid in Poland. The play was accepted at Covent Garden, and in the fertile fancy of the poet the play had already gained for him a great dramatic fame, when Colman, the licenser, refused it his sanction, on the plea of its containing certain treasonable allusions, and Shee, in great wrath, resolved to make his appeal to the public. This violent threat he carried out in 1824, but unfortunately the public found other business to mind, and Alasco is still on the list of unacted dramas. On the death of Lawrence in 1830, Shee was chosen president of the Royal Academy, and shortly afterwards he received the honour of knighthood. He was excellently qualified by his gentlemanly manners, business habits, and fluent speech for the position; and in the dispute regarding the use of rooms to be provided by Government, and in his examination before the parliamentary committee of 1836, he ably defended the rights of the Academy. He continued to paint till 1845, and died on the 13th of August 1850 in his eightieth year.
The earlier portraits of the artist are carefully finished, easy in action, with good drawing and excellent discrimination of character. They show an undue tendency to redness in the flesh painting, - a defect which is still more apparent in his later works, in which the handling is less "square," crisp, and forcible.