Henry O’Neil (b St Petersburg, 1817; d London, 13 March 1880)

Henry O'Neil came to England with his family in 1823. He became a student at the Royal Academy Schools in 1836 and sent his first picture to the Royal Academy exhibition in 1838. He joined THE CLIQUE with Egg, Frith, Phillip and Dadd, and began to pursue modern-life subjects that had a strong emotional component. His Eastward Ho! August 1857 (exh. RA 1858; priv. col., see Wood, 1976, no. 245; replica London, Forbes Mag. Col.) depicts soldiers leaving their families to quell the Indian Mutiny. The subject’s popularity rested in its contemporaneity, its appeal to patriotic fervour in the wake of the Crimean War, and its focus on the domestic side of military life. O’Neil made several replicas of the painting, which was also widely disseminated through engravings and was adapted as a theatrical tableau. His sequel, Home Again (exh. RA 1859; priv. col., see Wood, 1976, no. 246; replica London, Forbes Mag. Col.), contained many of the same characters as Eastward Ho!, but it was not so enthusiastically received. O’Neil’s tendency to avoid the darker side of modern-life subject-matter led to such works as The Parting Cheer (1861; priv. col., see Wood, 1976, no. 239), in which emigration is treated as a cause for excitement rather than despair. O’Neil also painted incidents from British history, literature, the Bible and the history of art, the last represented best by The Last Moments of Raphael (exh. RA 1866; Bristol, Mus. & A.G.). His choice of subjects was considered to be striking, but his composition faulty. Although made an ARA in 1860, O’Neil was never elected an RA, despite exhibiting nearly one hundred works at the Royal Academy.

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