William Mulready

Kathryn Moore Heleniak

Publicaton Date
May 1980
Standard Number
Yale University Press
288 pages

William Mulready is remembered today chiefly as a painter of genre pictures who in his use of color antedated the Pre-Raphaelites.  His paintings, which in their time were compared with those of the old masters, are rarely seen and are sometimes dismissed as sentimental evocations of a peaceful countryside that never really existed.  

This new study demonstrates how intimately Mulready’s paintings were related to the social conditions of his time.  His portrayal of blacks is linked to the abolition of slavery and to the British colonial experience; his children’s genre is analyzed in the light of nineteenth-century attitudes toward sexuality and in the light of Mulready’s own deeply rooted pessimism about human nature.  His origins—he was the son of Irish immigrants—and his spectacularly disastrous marriage led him to place a high value on social recognition and respectability; but we learn as well that he was renowned for his skeptical wit and held heretical views on the position of women.  He shocked his contemporaries by the crude vitality of some of his themes, but at the same time his painstaking methods of work and extreme attention to detail demonstrate his insecurity.

Mulready’s whole oeuvre, from his early landscapes to the mature genre pictures, is described and analyzed in detail in this original and provocative book, which also includes the first complete catalogue of his paintings.