Talking Heads

September 8, 2011 · 0 comments

in Collections,Conservation,Prints & Drawings,Projects

by Giada Gelli, Collections Student

Detail from Doing Penance in a White Sheet by HB or John Doyle and some of Doyle's "heads", Sketch no. 617, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

Detail from Doing Penance in a White Sheet by HB or John Doyle and some of Doyle's "heads", Sketch no. 617, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

So where were we…? A few weeks ago we were talking about the book In Fairyland with illustrations by Richard Doyle (1824-1883). I clearly remember promising you to further investigate him and his family, do you? Let’s begin by saying that I am not the first person with an interest in the Doyle family. Many before me have researched and written very detailed biographies about this accomplished family. Some examples of very good works are Michael Baker’s The Doyle Diary (1978) [PD 741 d], A biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1997) by Martin Booth, and Richard Doyle (1983) by Rodney K. Engen [92 DO y 14]. Of course a lot more material has been published, in particular about the Scottish crime writer Arthur Conan Doyle, and this blog series is not going be in any way an exhaustive account of the Doyle family! Nonetheless, it would be good to share a few stories with you while trying to find out about the materials relating to this family that are held here at the National Library.

Probably of Norman or Viking origin, the Doyle’s ancestors were a landed family based around the counties of Wexford and Wicklow. When impoverished and dispossessed of their land by anti-Catholic laws and British rule, they finally re-settled in Dublin, where Richard’s great-grandfather started a business as a silk merchant.

HB's An Agricultural Subject - Daniel O'Connell sows the seeds of sedition, Sketch no. 679, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

HB's An Agricultural Subject - Daniel O'Connell sows the seeds of sedition, Sketch no. 679, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

Richard’s father, on the other hand, was the first in the family to become an artist, and his individual talent was to play a key role in the artistic future of his descendants. Richard himself learned his trade as a caricaturist and watercolour painter from his father. We’ve already talked about Richard Doyle in our previous post, but if you’re looking for more information, have a look at this page on The Victorian Web, which contains links to a wealth of material about his life and works.

Detail from The Game of Pope Joan - Queen Victoria flirts with Prince Albert, Sketch no. 622, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

Detail from The Game of Pope Joan - Queen Victoria flirts with Prince Albert, Sketch no. 622, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

However, Richard wasn’t the only talented sibling, as four of his brothers were similarly gifted and ended up creating visual works of great importance in various fields of the Arts. That is except for one, Frank, who unfortunately died of typhoid when only a teenager (Booth, 1998). I couldn’t find much information about Richard’s two sisters: Adele died of consumption when very young, and Annette later became her father’s housekeeper when times became thrifty and her mother, Marianna Conan (d. 1832) was long dead.

Then, who was this talented father, head of such a gifted family? His name was John Doyle (1797-1868), though his contemporaries knew him as HB for most of his career, an acronym that he used to remain anonymous and thus be able to have a closer look at the subjects of his caricatures.

HB formed by two Js and two Ds - John Doyle

HB formed by two Js and two Ds - John Doyle

The acronym HB – which stands for two linked-up Js for John and two Ds arranged vertically for Doyle – was his signature for hundreds of political cartoons published by London-based publishers McLean from 1829 to 1849, otherwise known as the Political Sketches series. The plates were published weekly, but also as volumes with a comprehensive Illustrative Key (1841) [PD 7412 I 1] giving a brief description of the settings and characters of each sketch.

Daniel O'Connell holds the "Pope" card in HB's The Game of Pope Joan, Sketch no. 622, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

Daniel O'Connell holds the "Pope" card in HB's The Game of Pope Joan, Sketch no. 622, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

I am not an expert in cartoon techniques (yet!), but Bryant & Heneage in their Dictionary of British Cartoonists and Caricaturists, 1730-1980 (c.1994) define HB’s style to be a truthful and unexaggerated portraiture, this being a result of both the introduction of lithographic techniques replacing etching, and of his attractively good-humoured and polite tone.

The Prints & Drawings department here at the National Library has collected several of his works both in print and as original drawings, including some lithographed political caricatures with Daniel O’Connell as main subject [PD 4031 TX 1]. Also, an album of HB printed cartoons and satires [PD 4094 TX] and even a small selection of his work other than the Political Sketches, including some original drawings [PD 4031 TX 2].

It is no surprise then that so many of his children became artists of some sort, all finding their own particular way of expressing their passions through visual media, whether watercolour, ink or print.

HB's reflection on the clerical and public response to Henry Grattan's duel with the Marquess of Londonderry in 1839, Sketch no. 617, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

HB's reflection on the clerical and public response to Henry Grattan's duel with the Marquess of Londonderry in 1839, Sketch no. 617, NLI call no. PD 4031 TX 1

Ok, enough for this chapter of the Doyle saga, I think! Next time we will explore the lives and works of two other sons of HB, James (1822-1892) and Henry (1827-1892) – the second director of the National Gallery of Ireland. Stay tuned!

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