Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tresham, Henry
TRESHAM, HENRY (1749?–1814), historical painter, was born in Ireland. The date of his birth has been variously stated from 1749 to 1756. He received his first instruction in art from W. Ennis (d. 1770), the pupil and successor of Robert West (d. 1770) at the Dublin art school. For three years Tresham exhibited his works at Dublin—chalk drawings in 1771, allegorical designs for a ceiling in 1772, and ‘Andromache mourning for Hector’ in 1773. He came to England in 1775, and supported himself by drawing small portraits, till he obtained the patronage of John Campbell of Cawdor, afterwards (1796) first Baron Cawdor (d. 1821), who invited Tresham to accompany him on his travels through Italy. Tresham remained on the continent for fourteen years, staying chiefly at Rome, where he studied from the antique and from the paintings of the old masters, modelling his style especially on the works of the Roman school. He became an accomplished draughtsman of a frigid academical type, but had little sense of colour. He was a member of the academies of Rome and Bologna, and a keen student and a good critic of all kinds of works of art according to the standard of eighteenth-century connoisseurship. During his residence at Rome he published in 1784 ‘Le Avventure di Saffo,’ a series of eighteen subjects designed and engraved in aquatint by himself, which do not give a favourable impression of his draughtsmanship or taste at that period of his career. On his return to England in 1789 he resided at 9 George Street, Hanover Square, for some years, and afterwards at 20 Brook Street. He sent no fewer than twelve works, most of which were drawings, of very various subjects, to the Royal Academy in 1789. From that year to 1806 he exhibited thirty-three works in all, the majority of which were subjects from scriptural, Roman, or English history, accompanied sometimes by rather pedantic quotations in the catalogues from Cicero or Athenæus. Many of his pictures were painted for Robert Bowyer's ‘Historic Gallery,’ and engraved in the large illustrated edition of Hume's ‘History of England.’ His sepia drawings for the twofold dedication of this work, to George III and to the ‘Legislature of Great Britain,’ which were engraved by Bartolozzi and Fittler respectively, are in the print-room of the British Museum. Two illustrations of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ by him appeared in Boydell's ‘Shakespeare,’ and a third subject from the same play in Boydell's large ‘Shakespeare Gallery.’ He also designed frontispieces for Sharpe's ‘British Classics’ and several other publications. Several of his large scriptural and classical pictures—e.g. ‘Maid Arise’ and ‘The Death of Virginia’—were engraved by the two Schiavonetti, and his ‘Ophelia’ was etched by Bartolozzi.
Tresham was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1791, and an academician in 1799. In 1807 he succeeded John Opie [q. v.] as professor of painting, but resigned that office in 1809 on account of bad health. He was a collector of pictures and decorative objects, and it is related that he made a profitable investment of 100l. in purchasing some Etruscan vases which Thomas Hope (1770?–1831) [q. v.] had given to his servant as the refuse of a collection which he had bought (presumably Sir William Hamilton's vases, which Hope purchased in 1801). Tresham parted with a portion of these to Samuel Rogers for 800l., and for the remainder, with additions which Tresham himself had collected abroad, Frederick, fifth earl of Carlisle, the father-in-law of his first patron, Lord Cawdor, settled upon him an annuity of 300l. for life. Upon this annuity he largely depended during the last years of his life, when ill-health prevented him from painting. Another source of income was the salary which he received for his share (the descriptive text) in the ‘British Gallery of Pictures,’ a series of good engravings from pictures in English collections, which the firm of Longman & Co. continued to issue till 1818. Tresham was largely concerned in the selection of these pictures, and in obtaining the consent of the owners to their publication. He died in Bond Street on 17 June 1814.
Tresham published five volumes of verse: 1. ‘The Sea-sick Minstrel,’ 1796. 2. ‘Rome at the Close of the Eighteenth Century,’ 1799. 3. ‘Britannicus to Buonaparte: an Heroic Epistle,’ 1803. 4. ‘Recreation at Ramsgate’ (1805?). 5. ‘A Tributary Lay to the Memory of the Marquis of Lansdowne,’ 1810.
Four portraits of Tresham were engraved, viz. (1) a drawing by George Chinnery, 1802, etched by Mrs. Dawson Turner; (2) a profile drawing by George Dance, engraved by William Daniell; (3) a picture by Opie, exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1806, engraved by Samuel Freeman, 1809; (4) a drawing by Alexander Pope, engraved by Antony Cardon, and published on 27 Jan. 1814.[Gent. Mag. 1814, i. 701, ii. 290; Sandby's Hist. of Royal Academy, i. 313; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Graves's Dict. of Artists; Brit. Mus. Cat.]