Daniel MACLISE
1806-1870

    John Forster first introduced Daniel Maclise and Charles Dickens in December of 1836. Forster and Maclise were already great friends and they now introduced the twenty-four year old Dickens to an important segment of literary London. Although the young author had produced Sketches by Boz, the first installation of Pickwick Papers was yet to be published. Maclise, who had become an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1835, was the better known figure. With Dickens' help, he was soon to become notorious.
   The son of a poor Presbyterian shoemaker, Maclise had emigrated from his native Cork in 1827. He gained admission to the Royal Academy schools and received recognition as a painter of medieval romance with works like the 1835 Chivalric Vow of the Ladies and the Peacock, and the 1838 Merry Christmas in the Baron's Hall. His most personal effort in this vein was his Portrait of Sir Francis Sykes and His Family which was exhibited at the 1837 Royal Academy Exhibition. The secret of the watercolor, that the artist was having an affair with Sir Francis's wife Henrietta, was revealed that summer when Sir Francis found the artist and his model together in her bed. Dickens responded to the news that Sir Francis was going to sue Maclise by introducing a villain named Sikes into his latest installment of Oliver Twist. It was a gesture of affectionate solidarity toward a man who was becoming one of Dickens' best friends.
   During the forties, Maclise and Dickens were extremely close. Dickens' daughter described this friendship at its height.

    Maclise, moreover, was very handsome in person, and had a singular fascination and charm of manner, little personal attractions for which my father had invariably an almost boyish enthusiasm, and the charming warmth and geniality of his nature completely won my father's heart.
    [K. Perugini, "Charles Dickens as a Lover of Art and Artists," The Magazine of Art, 1903, 127.]

   Throughout the decade, the friends shared many dinners, visits and adventures. One of their outings was commemorated by a painting. In the autumn of 1842 the three friends, joined by landscape painter Clarkson Stanfield, visited Cornwall. Back in London, Maclise produced Waterfall at St Nighton's Keive, Near Tintagel [Victoria and Albert Museum.] Dickens' sister-in-law Georgina modeled for the barefoot maiden who is placed within a depiction of the scenery the friends had just seen. Dickens wanted the painting but was afraid that the generous Maclise would refuse to value it highly enough so he resorted to a "pious fraud" by having an intermediary buy it [Letter to C. Beard 18 Dec 1842.] Maclise's fame was secured by his 1840 election to the Royal Academy and his selection as a fresco muralist for the new House of Lords. He completed The Spirit of Chivalry in 1847 and The Spirit of Justice in 1849.
   Maclise did the frontispiece and title page for Dickens' second Christmas book, The Chimes of 1844. Believing that he had a "staggerer of a book," Dickens read the story several times before publication to small groups of friends to great effect. Maclise was at the December third reading which took place at Forster's chambers in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The resulting sketch shows the artist on the edge of his seat, Dickens with a corona of inspired genius and the other gentlemen overwhelmed by emotion.

reading The Chimes

     Although Dickens especially liked the frontispiece, Maclise was frustrated by having to work on such a small scale. His illustrations for the Christmas Book of 1845 The Cricket on the Hearth and the 1846 Battle of Life lead to some acrimony between the two friends but the relationship was sufficiently intact that they traveled together to Paris in 1850.
   Throughout the next twenty years --both men died in 1870-- there was a growing distance and the two old friends rarely met. Maclise went on to distinguish himself as a Royal Academician, frequent exhibitor and creator of the two gigantic battle scenes in the Royal Gallery at Westminster; The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher After the Battle of Waterloo and The Death of Nelson. 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.

(this article contributed by...)
Nancy Weston
St Cloud State University
St Cloud Minnesota

Sources:
Weston, Nancy Daniel Maclise: Irish Artist in Victorian London (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001) $55, 323 pp, 61 ills. ISBN 1-85182-574-6
Cohen, J. Charles Dickens and his Original Ilustrators, (Columbus, Ohio, 1980)
National Arts Council of Great Britain, Daniel Maclise 1806-1870, (London, Dublin, 1972)
O'Driscoll, W. A Memoir of Daniel Maclise, R. A., (London, 1871)
Weston, N. "Dickens, Daniel Maclise and the Real Bill Sikes," Dickensian, winter 1994, 189-196.