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Francis Wheatley, 1747–1801

Donnybrook Fair, 1782

Additional Title(s):

Donnybrook Fair

Materials & Techniques:
Black ink with watercolor on medium, smooth, cream laid paper
Sheet: 12 5/8 x 21 1/2 inches (32.1 x 54.6 cm)

Signed in black ink, lower left: "FWheatley | delt. 1782"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
barrels | basket | bellows | bonnets (hats) | boots | bridle | buttons | cart | chain | children | cloak | cloth | costume | fair | fires | flags | genre subject | grass | hats | hay | hills | horses (animals) | jackets | jug | kissing | leisure | market (event) | men | money | napkins | pitcher | pot | saddle | shoes | signs | smoke | spoon | stick | stockings | straw | stripes | table | tablecloth | tents | tub | wheels | women
Associated Places:
Dublin | Ireland
Accessible by appointment in the Study Room [Request]
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IIIF Manifest:

Francis Wheatley is chiefly known today for his Cries of London, a series of paintings of itinerant merchants that were widely circulated as engravings. After Studying at the newlyt-established Royal Academy Schools, the versatile artist quickly consolidated his reputation in London as a painter and draftsman. Although his portraits, landscapes, and history and genre subjects were favorably received, Wheatley was constantly in debt, and in 1779 he fled to Ireland to escape his creditors.

Wheatley established a thriving portrait practice in Dublin, and he also produced landscapes and genre subjects, including a large group of watercolors depicting two traditional peasant fairs, Donnybrook and Palmerston. These attractive drawings were extremely popular with his fashionable Irish clientele, but neither Wheatley's choice of subject matter nor his mode of representation are as straightforward as they may seem at first sight. Founded in 1204, and held on the periphery of Dublin, Donnybrook Fair was notorious drunkenness, licentiousness, and violence (indeed, the term "donnybrook" is still used today as a synonym for a disorderly brawl), and in the later eighteenth century it provided the Irish ruling class with a potent reminder of the ever-present possibility of social unrest.

In 1778 a writer in the Freeman's Journal noted "how irksome it was to friends of the industry and well being of the Society to hear that upwards of 50,000 persons visited the fair on the previous Sunday, and returned to the city like intoxicated savages." Such complaints were commonplace, and Donnybrook Fair was eventually abolished in 1867. This refined neutrally colored watercolor, with its subdued and cheerless groups of peasants, betray no hint of the Saturnalian character of the fair the Whatley's contemporaries found so disturbing, and, like may other examples of Picturesque genre art of the period, seems to have been produced with the intention of reassuring his respectable clientele.

Gillian Forrester

Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001. pg. 110 cat. no. 91

Ireland - Art on a World Stage 1690-1840 (The Art Institute of Chicago, 2015-03-17 - 2015-06-07) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Francis Wheatley (Yale Center for British Art, 2005-08-31 - 2006-02-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, British watercolour drawings in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Victoria, BC, 1971, p. 31, no. 50, pl. 12, ND1928 .A76 1971 (LC) (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Baskett, English drawings and watercolors, 1550-1850, in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon , The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 1972, pp. 40-41, no. 53, NC228 B37+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

William Laffan, Ireland : crossroads of art and design, 1690-1840, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2015, p. 235, no. 132, no. 132, N6787 .I74 2015 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 110, no. 91, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Mahonri Sharp Young, The Mellon Drawings at the Morgan, Apollo, vo. 95, no. 122, April, 1972, pp. 332, 334, fig. 6, N1 A54 + (YCBA) Another copy available in Vertical File - V 2330 [YCBA]

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