The Hickey Brothers

The former owner of Finnstown house, Eoin Hickey, hails from a family that produced two of the greatest artists of the late 18th century. Thomas Hickey, the artist, and John Hickey, the sculptor, were the sons of a Capel Street confectioner.

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John Hickey (1751 – 1795), Irish Sculptor

John Hickey was born in Dublin on 7th Nov 1751. As a young boy, he worked under a local carver before moving to England in 1776 and entering the Royal Academy Schools. From 1777 he exhibited regularly at the Academy. In 1778 he won the Academy’s Gold Medal with a relief representing the Massacre of the Innocents (sold London, Christie’s, 15 March 1798). His portrait of Sarah Siddons as ‘Cassandra’ is a finely carved 730 millimetre high marble statuette, unusual at the time in England for its small scale. Hickey’s marble portrait busts include his champion Edmund Burke (1785) and George Thicknesse (1791) Appointed Sculptor to the Prince of Wales (later George IV) in 1786, he produced for the Grand Staircase at London’s Carlton House (since destroyed) a pair of plaster figures of Atlas and Time supporting a clock, the model for which (untraced) he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1788. Hickey’s finest work was probably his red and white marble monument to David La Touche of Delgany, Co. Wicklow, a five-figure group comprising three heroic mourning figures bound by swathes of drapery supporting a sarcophagus surmounted by a draped urn. Above, a pediment supports a statue of the deceased in contemporary dress, flanked by a giant cornucopia and reclining female figure representing Commerce. His most ambitious work in England, the marble monument to Elizabeth Hawkins and her Family (1782) follows the fashion of John Bacon. ) Edmund Burke was enthusiastic in promoting Hickey and secured for him the commission for the monument to David Garrick in Westminster Abbey, London; his second choice was Thomas Banks. Hickey died on 12th January 1795 before work could begin.

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Thomas Hickey (1753 – 1816)

Indian Bibi Jemdanee by Thomas Hickey, Calcutta, 1787

Thomas Hickey (1753 - 1816)
"Indian bibi Jemdanee" by Thomas Hickey, Calcutta, 1787.
Courtesy: National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

Between February 1782 and January 1791, Thomas Hickey spent much of his time working as official artist to Lord McCartney in the British colony of India. Until the middle of the eighteenth century, there were practically no visual records of the people of India. Those artists who made it to the sub-continent tended to focus on portraits of the rich and famous, or pictures of imperial interest commissioned by the East India Company. However, there were some, both professional and amateur artists, who applied their talents to depicting 'Indian India' and its exotic people - especially the native women. Thomas Hickey was amongst these few who captured the essence of these women, as with his charming portrait Jemdanee, the young Bengali Muslim bibi beloved of his kinsman William Hickey, an attorney and famous socialite of Calcutta in the 1790s. About her, William Hickey noted in his memoirs that "she lived with me [and was] respected and admired by all my friends for her extraordinary sprightliness and good humour ...as gentle and affectionately attached a girl as ever man was blessed with".

He joined Lord Macartney's embassy to China from 1792 to 1794, during which he painted several images of the Far East. He returned to Ireland in January 1796, "not overburdened with riches". However, in 1798, he was drawn back to India and he was the only portrait painter on the spot when the Fourth Mysore War ended in 1799. He quickly and prudently planned a related series of seven historical paintings. In preparation, between June 1799 and November 1801, he made at least 55 chalk drawings of the principal Indian and British participants, including Allan, Beatson, Baird, the young Krishnaraja Wadeyar III and Purniya. His subsequent works included portraits of Colonel Mackenzie, the diarist William Hickey; Captain William Kirkpatrick; Thomas Graham of Kinross; Tipu's Chief Minister, Purniya; Lt.Col William Kirkpatrick and a wonderful series of portrait drawings of British Officers and the sons and ministers of Tipu, drawn at Seringapatam and Madras in 1799 and 1800. From these portraits, Hickey intended to paint a series of seven History paintings related to the Mysore campaign, but these were never executed.

Before his return to India in 1798, he was commissioned by Dr. Robert Emmet, State Physician for Ireland, to paint a portrait of the doctor's son, Robert, and daughter, Mary. The son went on to become the patriot Robert Emmet who gave his life for Ireland in 1803.


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