Francis   Danby

(b. nr. Wexford, Ireland, 16 Nov 1793; d. Exmouth, Devon, 9 Feb 1861)

Born in the south of Ireland; his father, James Danby, was a farmer and small landed proprietor at Common, near Wexford. Upon his death in 1807, his property in Wexford being settled upon the children of his first wife Susanna, viz., John Henry, James, and Mrs. Jane Boyd. He left his second wife and her family but slenderly provided for. By her he had two sons, twins, Thomas, who died in childhood, Francis, and a daughter, Frances Olivia. The insurrection of 1798, drove Danby's family to Dublin. Francis studied in the Dublin Society's Schools and on the death of his father he determined to adopt art as his profession.

Exerpt From | A Dictionary of Irish Artists, 1913.

He had studied drawing in the classes of the Royal Dublin Society, and conceived a strong wish to be a painter. With his mother's consent, he continued his studies under O'Connor, a neglected landscape painter of considerable genius, but little older than Danby himself. Both were intimate friends of George Petrie [q. v.], then a painter. Danby's first picture, ‘An Evening Landscape,’ was exhibited at Dublin in 1812, and sold, Mr. S. C. Hall says, for fifteen guineas. In the following year the three friends proceeded on an expedition to London. Danby says that this occurred in 1811, but the evidence of date in Petrie's biography is decisive, and Danby himself speaks of having then seen Turner's ‘Frosty Morning,’ which was not exhibited till 1813.

Danby and O'Connor remained in London after Petrie had left them, and notwithstanding the latter's generosity in presenting them with two valuable rings, their means ran so short that on arriving at Bristol they were unable to pay for a night's lodging. Danby raised the means by selling two sketches of the Wicklow mountains for eight shillings to Mintorn, a stationer on College Green, and, by the persuasion of Mintorn's son, remained at Bristol to sketch the neighbourhood, O'Connor returning to Ireland. Danby was largely patronised by a Bristol citizen of the name of Fry, through whose son he made an acquaintance which resulted in a hasty and imprudent marriage, unknown, as he declares, to his relatives.

He visited Norway and Scotland, and a view in the latter country was his first contribution to the Royal Academy, in 1817. Becoming conscious of his powers, he successively exhibited three important pictures: ‘The Upas Tree’ (British Institution, 1820), ‘Disappointed Love’ (Royal Academy, 1821), and ‘Clearing up after a Shower’ (Royal Academy, 1822); all fully and sympathetically described by the brothers Redgrave (A Century of Painters). ‘Disappointed Love,’ now in the Sheepshanks Collection at South Kensington, is adduced in R. H. Horne's Exposition of the False Medium as a remarkable instance of the triumph of imaginative genius over technical defects.

In 1824, Danby established his reputation by his grand marine painting ‘Sunset at Sea after a Storm,’ which was purchased by Sir Thomas Lawrence at a much higher price, it is said, than the painter's own.

Danby removed to London, partly, it has been stated, at the instance of the academicians, who wished to oppose him to their antagonist Martin. His next picture, ‘The Delivery of Israel out of Egypt,’ now in the Duke of Sutherland's collection, is certainly in Martin's style, and a victory over him. Like its successor in the same style, ‘The Opening of the Sixth Seal,’ it is well known from engravings. The latter work was purchased by Beckford. Danby had already exhibited (1825), ‘The Enchanted Island,’ celebrated in the verse of L. E. L., and (7 November 1825) had been elected an associate of the Academy.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838)
Poems signed "L. E. L." in the gift-book Annuals took on even more glamor from rumors of unseemly alliances, her surprising marriage in 1838, to George Maclean, governor of Cape Coast Castle in West Africa, and her almost immeidate death there in mysterious circumstances. "The Enchanted Island, from the Picture by Danby in the British Gallery" was first published in July 1825, in the Bristol Times and Mirror. Francis Danby himself relied on literaary sources and quoted verse to prove it. One of Landon's specialities was descriptive celebration in verse of exhibited paintings; another -- not a negligible accomplishment -- was wish fulfillment.

AND there the island lay, the waves around
Had never known a storm; for the north wind
Was charm'd from coming, and the only airs
That blew brought sunshine on their azure wings,
Or tones of music from the sparry caves,
Where the sea-maids make lutes of the pink conch.
These were sea breezes,--those that swept the land
Brought other gifts,--sighs from blue violets,
Or from June's sweet Sultana, the bright rose,
Stole odours. On the silver mirror's face
Was but a single ripple that was made
By a flamingo's beak, whose scarlet wings
Shone like a meteor on the stream: around,
Upon the golden sands, were coral plants,
And shells of many colours, and sea weeds,
Whose foliage caught and chain'd the Nautilus,
Where lay they as at anchor. On each side
Were grottoes, like fair porticoes with steps
Of the green marble; and a lovely light,
Like the far radiance of a thousand lamps,
Half-shine, half-shadow, or the glorious track
Of a departing star but faintly seen
In the dim distance, through those caverns shone,
And play'd o'er the tall trees which seem'd to hide
Gardens, where hyacinths rang their soft bells
To call the bees from the anemone,
Jealous of their bright rivals' golden wealth.
--Amid those arches floated starry shapes,
Just indistinct enough to make the eye
Dream of surpassing beauty; but in front,
Borne on a car of pearl, and drawn by swans,
There lay a lovely figure,--she was queen
Of the Enchanted Island, which was raised
From ocean's bosom but to pleasure her:
And spirits, from the stars, and from the sea,
The beautiful mortal had them for her slaves.

She was the daughter of a king, and loved
By a young Ocean Spirit from her birth,--
He hover'd o'er her in her infancy,
And bade the rose grow near her, that her cheek
Might catch its colour,--lighted up her dreams
With fairy wonders, and made harmony
The element in which she moved; at last,
When that she turn'd away from earthly love,
Enamour'd of her visions, he became
Visible with his radiant wings, and bore
His bride to the fair island.

The road to the highest honours of his profession seemed open before him, when he struck on the rock of domestic difficulties. ‘A story ill to tell,’ says Redgrave, ‘with faults, and no doubt recriminations, which the grave has partly closed over, and which we will not venture to re-open.’ There seems no doubt that Danby himself was chiefly culpable, and highly culpable. [His marriage collapsed and he had taken a mistress; his wife left London with the Bristol artist, Paul Falconer Poole, whom she subsequently married. The ensuing scandal forced Danby to move abruptly to Paris in 1830.]

In 1829, he left England for the continent, and until 1841, lived principally on the Lake of Geneva, yachting, boat-building, and supporting himself mainly by the sale in England of drawings executed for albums. During this period he only contributed two unimportant pictures to the Academy, but his great gallery painting of ‘The Deluge,’ afterwards the chief artistic feature of the Dublin Exhibition of 1853, was exhibited separately in 1840. In 1841, he exhibited ‘The Sculptor's Triumph’ and other pictures at the Academy, and, returning to England, took up his residence at Lewisham.

In 1847, he removed to Shell House, Exmouth, and lived there until his death. From 1841, onwards he was a constant contributor to the Academy, but the scandal he had caused was never forgiven, and he never attained the full artistic honours so richly merited by his genius. He made no further attempts in the style of Martin, but produced a number of highly poetical landscapes, usually effects of sunset or early morning. Of these ‘The Fisherman's Home’ in the Vernon Gallery is a good though small example; ‘The Evening Gun’ (1848), and ‘The Wild Sea Shore’ (1853), were among the most characteristic and successful; ‘The Departure of Ulysses from Ithaca’ (1854), and ‘Venus rising from the Sea’ (1860), were classical landscapes of larger scale and more ambitious purpose. To these Academy works may be added ‘Calypso lamenting the Departure of Ulysses’ and ‘The Grave of the Excommunicated,’ exhibited at the British Institution. His principal patron during this period was the late Mr. Gibbons of Hanover Terrace, who acquired some of his finest works.

Danby died at Exmouth 10 Feb. 1861, after a brief illness; his last picture, ‘A Dewy Morning,’ had left his easel only a few days previously. As a painter of imaginative effects Danby has lost ground in an age when minute observation is chiefly demanded; but so long as his pictures subsist he will be esteemed by men of poetical feeling. ‘We have scarcely ever seen a work by him,’ says Thackeray, ‘in regarding which the spectator does not feel impressed by something of that solemn contemplation and reverent worship of nature which seem to pervade the artist's mind and pencil. One may say of Mr. Danby that he paints morning and evening odes.’ Disraeli speaks in ‘Coningsby’ of ‘the magic pencil of Danby.’ ‘His pictures,’ says Redgrave, ‘are true poetry as compared with the prose -- noble prose it may be -- of many who have great reputation as landscape painters.’

He was not content to transcribe nature, he combined and reproduced his impressions in an imaginative form, generally aiming at an effect of solemnity and stillness. Out of forty-six pictures exhibited at the Academy, the titles of only three bear any relation to actual scenery. His range was certainly limited; he became too exclusively identified in the public mind with glowing sunsets; his composition was sometimes formal or theatrical, and the smoothness of his execution occasionally degenerated into ‘teaboardiness.’ But the mind of a poet inspired all he did. As a man he lived and died under a cloud, the deeper perhaps because the imputations cast upon him were never made publicly known. It is doubtful, however, if he would have gained by publicity. Redgrave, kindly disposed to him both as man and artist, is unable to acquit him of moral perversity, not to say obliquity. He nevertheless possessed many estimable qualities. He is described by an intimate associate, writing in the ‘Bristol Daily Press,’ as remarkable for the warmth of his friendships and his freedom from prejudice, and his kindness to young artists of talent is still remembered at Exmouth. He maintained a lifelong friendship with Petrie, and some interesting specimens of his correspondence are given in the latter's biography. ‘Let us,’ he says, writing in 1846, ‘exult in the confidence that we belong to that class of our fellow-men who by the elixir you describe, “the true enjoyment of nature,” retain the heart of youth, though the eye grow dim, the hand tremble, and the hair turn grey.’

[Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14, by Richard Garnett; Danby's Letter to Messrs. Griffin, British Museum Add. MS. 28509; Redgraves' Century of Painters of the English School, ii. 437–49; Stokes's Life of Petrie, pp. 7–10; Men of the Time, 1st edit.; Bristol Daily Press, 13, 20 Feb. 1861; Athenæum and Art Journal for 1861.]



DANBY, FRANCIS, A.R.A, was born at Wexford, Ireland, November 16, 1793. He received his earliest lessons in design in the School of Arts, Dublin, and exhibited his first pictures in 1812, at the exhibition in that city. In 1820, he removed to England, and took up his abode in Bristol. He sent some pictures to the Royal Academy Exhibition in the following years; but it was not till 1824, that he obtained mnor notice, when a painting in the style which he has since made so familiar, entitled 'Sunset at Sea, after a Storm,' at once secured him a high place among the artists of his day. The picture was purchased by Sir Thomas Lawrence, at a price much above that which the obscure artist had ventured to place upon it; and this practical testimony of the president's admiration added no little to his popularity. Stimulated by his success, he the next year exhibited one of his largest and most elaborate paintings,'The Delivery of Israel out of Egypt;' and the Royal Academy marked its sense of his ability by electing him in the same year an Associate. The next three years were the most productive in Mr. Danby's career as a painter, several of his most ambitious and best-known poetic and historical landscapes gracing the Academy walls during this period. In 1826, he exhibited 'Christ Walking on the Sea' (1827), 'The Embarkation of Cleopatra on the Cydnus to meet Mark Antony' (1828), 'The Opening of the Seventh Seal' and a 'Scene from the Merchant of Venioe.' H is pictures were now looked for as one of the chief attractions of the annual exhibition, but his public career was suddenly brought to a temporary close. Some family matters caused him in 1829, to leave England, and he remained absent ten or twelve years, during which time he sent only one or two oil-paintings to the Exhibition. In 1841, he returned in full strength with his
'Morning at Rhodes,'
'The Sculptor's Triumph when his Statue of Venus is about to be placed in the Temple' and
an 'Enchanted Island.'
These he followed up by a work of very ambitious character: the
'Deluge'
a 'Holy Family'
the 'Contest of the Lyre and the Pipe in the Vale of Tempd'
'St. Cloud in the Time of Louis XIV.'
'The Painter's Holiday'
'The Last Moment of Sunset'
'The Tomb of Christ after the Resurrection'
'The Fisherman's Home'
'Winter Sunset'
'Summer Sunset'
'Ship on Fire -- calm Moonlight -- far at Sea'
'Caius Marius amid the Ruins of Carthage'
'Departure of Ulysses from Ithaca -- Morning'
'A Wild Sea-Shore at Sunset'
'A Party of Pleasure on the Lake of Wallenetadt'
'Evening -- Dead Calm'.


As the titles will have told, Mr. Danby's pictures are never mere delineations of a particular spot. Many of them are of the most ambitious class of poetic landscape; and they almost reach their lofty aim. His landscapes display considerable imagination, much poetic feeling, refinement, and rich and harmonious, though somewhat too monotonous colour. He delights especially in depicting the glories of the last moment of suoset, or the early twilight which succeeds it; and he bathes every object in the glowing atmosphere proper to that season. What he wants perhaps is something more of strength, fully to realise his intention; but as it is, he has marked out for himself a distinct path in the landscape art, and in it he has found no rival. Mr. Danby still holds only the same professional rank of A.R.A., which he held thirty years ago; but this is well understood to be, even with the Academy, no criterion of his real standing as a painter. His not having attained the honours of full membership has arisen from some of those private reasons which at times sway all close corporations and coteries. Mr. Danby has two sons, who have adopted the profession of painting; one of them, Thomas Danby, has acquired celebrity by some remarkably faithful pictures of Euglish mountain scenery.

The English Cyclopædia: A new dictionary of universal knowledge, Volumes 1-2, 1858



DANBY, Francis, (1793–1861), who was born near Wexford, Ireland, in 1793, learned the first principles of his art wider a landscape painter named 0'Connor, in Dubnn, where his first picture, a landscape view called 'Evening,' was exhibited in 1812. In the following year, master and pupil, accompanied by George Petrie, set off together to seek their fortunes in London, but their funds becoming exhausted before they reached the metropolis, they stopped at Bristol. Here Danby managed to sell some drawings, and with the proceeds paid O'Connor's expenses to Dublin, but he himself remained in Bristol, and for a few years supported himself by giving lessons in water-colour painting, now and then sending a picture to the Royal Academy. In 1825, his 'Delivery of Israel out of Egypt' gained him the Associateship of the Academy, and lie then went to live in London. In 1830, a quarrel with that body drove him from England, and for the next eleven years he lived in Switzerland, giving up his time to boat-building, yachting, and the painting of unimportant pictures on commission.

Two works only appeared at the annual London Exhibitions during this long interval, the 'Golden Age' and 'Rich and Rare were the Gems she wore.' In 1841, he returned to England, took up his residence at Lewisham, and began painting large subjects for exhibition at the British Institution and the Royal Academy with all his old enthusiasm. He died in 1861 at Exmouth, where be had resided since 1847. The following are some of his best works:
The Upas, or Poison-tree of Java {British Institute, 1820), in the South Kensington Museum
Disappointed Love (Royal Academy, 1821)
Sunset at Sea after a Storm (Hibernian Academy, 1824)
The Delivery of Israel out of Egypt {Royal Academy, 1825), in Stafford House
The Opening of the Sixth Seal (British Institute, 1828)
The Golden Age (Royal Academy, 1831)
Rich and Rare were the Gems she wore (Royal Academy, 1837)
The Fisherman's Home, Sunrise, 1846. In the National Gallery
The Evening Gun (Royal Academy, 1848)

Bryan's Painters and Engravers Vol I., 1886.



Danby, Francis, A. R. A. Born in Ireland (1793-1861). Received his art education in Dublin. Went to Bristol, England at the age of twenty, teaching drawing for some time, and painting his "Sunset at Sea after a Storm," which first brought him into notice as an artist. It was at the Royal Academy in 1824, and was purchased by Sir Thomas Lawrence. In 1825, he removed to London, and was elected Associate of the Royal Academy on the strength of his picture of the "Delivery of Israel out of Egypt," exhibited that year. In 1830, he went to the Continent, remaining twelve years in Switzerland. His "Fisherman's Home," painted in 1846, (in the Vernon Collection), is now in the National Gallery, London. Among his better known works are "Venus rising from the Sea" and "The Highland Chieftain's Burial."

Danby is most distinguished for his calm evening scenes at sea, generally sunsets, under various aspects, frequently combined with some poetical subject, incident, or sentiment, and nearly always conspicuous for their brilliant coloring." -- Wornum's Epochs of Painting.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century & their Works, Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879.



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