SHEE, Sir Martin Archer
(b. 1769, Dublin, d. 1850, Brighton)


Irish painter and writer, active in England. He received a Classical education before entering the Drawing Academy of the Royal Dublin Society, where his master was Francis Robert West (1749-1809). After leaving the Academy he practiced as a portrait painter in oil and pastel, taking his sitters from Dublin society. In 1788, on the advice of the American portrait painter Gilbert Stuart, Shee travelled to London where, despite useful introductions, he was reduced to making engraved copies for Thomas Macklin, the publisher.

His fortunes changed with the arrival of his cousin Sir George Shee, a rich Indian nabob, who obtained him an audience with Joshua Reynolds; in March 1790 he enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools. His new self-confidence is evident in his Self-portrait (1794; National Portrait Gallery, London). He became an Associate of the Royal Academy (ARA) in November 1798 and a member (RA) in February 1800. Henceforth his career was that of the hugely successful portrait painter, and after the death of Thomas Lawrence he was elected by a large majority as President of the Royal Academy in 1830. In the same year he was knighted. He was a member of the Society of Dilettanti, the Royal Society and several overseas cultural institutes.

Painting apart, he was a poet, critic, playwright. In 1805 Shee published Rhymes on Art, or the Remonstrance of a Painter, in which he argued for national patronage of artists. The book was well received and was instrumental in the establishment of the British Institution in 1807. Elements in Art, a poem in six cantos, which he wrote four years later, was less influential.

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