Crawford Art Gallerypermanent collection

A Son of the Soil
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A Son of the Soil
c. 1885
Irish School
oil on canvas
78.5 x 68cm


Bequeathed by the artist, 1918

William Magrath
Irish School

William Magrath is one of those elusive, wandering Cork artists, whose careers were spent between Ireland, America and Europe. He was born in 1838, and educated at St. Stephen's Hospital, and the Blue Coat School. He became a pupil at the School of Art in Cork in 1856, but according to John Gilbert:-

"His subsequent career was remarkable for hard knocks and unassisted hard work."

He ran away and became a stowaway to New York. He was "penniless and starving", and offered to assist a sign-writer by making improvements in his work. The sign-writer, rather than being insulted, seems to have employed and fed him. Later Magrath became a night porter at a hotel, so that he could study art during the daytime. He married, but his wife died within a year, and their infant son died shortly afterwards. However, his fortunes began to improve when his portrait of Stonewall Jackson attracted public attention. He painted classical subjects and figure studies, somewhat in the style of Alma Tadema. He was elected member of the Academy of Fine Arts in America, in New York, and also lived in Washington.

After twenty five years in America, he returned to Ireland. he toured in the South West, painting at Bantry, Glengarriff and Killarney. He exhibited The Old Sod at the Royal Academy c.1886, (the picture later hung in the New York Academy). He painted a watercolour of Trafalgar Square in London, and visited Belgium, Holland and Italy (painting coastal scenes there).

His later years were spent moving to-and-fro between Europe and America. The massive canvas Tara Halls was painted in America, as were other pictures of Irish life:- "his landscapes and genre pictures are racy (and) of the soil."

He met Madame Blavatsky and became involved with the Theosophists. Blavatsky gave him the history of the Magrath family and he painted the Magrath tomb in Cashel. He visited Cork in 1893. He painted the Killarney picture Gorse and Heather in Bloom, and published 'The Old Sod'. Back in America, he was visited by Hugh Charde in New York c.1913. He then moved to London, and died there on 12th February, 1918.


A Record of Authors, Artists and Musical Composers born in the County of Cork by John Gilbert, Cork Historical and Archaeological Journal, Vol.XIX, p.177
A Common Place Book kept by Michael Holland (Crawford Gallery Archives)

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