Doyle, Richard (‘Dickie’) (1824–83), illustrator, printmaker, and watercolour painter, was born 18 September 1824 in London, son of John Doyle (qv), political cartoonist, of Dublin, and Marianne Conan who died in 1832 after the birth of their seventh child and fifth son, Charles. The family was of Norman descent: in 1333 Alexander d'Oilly was granted lands in Co. Wexford by Edward III. By the late eighteenth century the family lands had been lost.
John Doyle was the most important influence on his son Richard, whose great talents as a draughtsman became evident at an early age with such works as his ‘Dick Doyle's journal’ (Print Room, British Museum). Dating to 1840, this illustrated manuscript was based on letters to his father describing his daily life. In the same year his first published designs appeared on a set of ten pictorial envelopes and he published the first of his ‘Comic histories’, ‘The Eglinton tournament, or, The days of chivalry revived’. These early works mark the beginning of Doyle's characteristic love of fantasy and subjects taken from medieval legends and fairytales.
However, Doyle's art was also rooted in careful observation, as advocated by his father. It was this ability of capturing everyday life that lay behind his great success as a comic illustrator. In this capacity he began to work for the magazine Punch in 1843, having been introduced to its editor Mark Lemon by his uncle Michael Conan, journalist and art critic for the Morning Chronicle. A combination of realistic detail and imaginative invention characterised such contributions as the satirical series Manners and customs of ye Englyshe (1849) which accompanied Percival Leigh's ‘Mr Pip's diary’. More sombre were his drawings depicting the Irish famine of the 1840s. His design for the cover of the magazine was used from 1849 to 1956. In 1850 he resigned from Punch due to attacks made in it on the catholic church for its plans to restore a diocesan hierarchy in England.
Though he was approached by rival publications, he worked as a book illustrator from this time and so became associated with the leading literary figures of the day. For his friend, William Makepeace Thackeray, Doyle illustrated Rebecca and Rowena (1849–50) and The Newcomes (1853–5). He also contributed illustrations to the annual Christmas books of Charles Dickens, as did Daniel Maclise (qv). Doyle continued to work in a satirical vein. In 1854 he published The foreign tour of Messrs Brown, Jones and Robinson, a caricature of British tourists abroad, based on characters he had first created for Punch in 1850. In 1861–3 he contributed a series entitled ‘A bird's eye view of society’ to the Cornhill Magazine.
By the 1850s Doyle had become known as an illustrator of fairytales. His first published work in this genre, The fairy ring (1846), was acclaimed by critics, as were illustrations for A. R. Montalba's Fairy tales from all nations of 1849. In Fairyland (1870), where Doyle's imagination was given free rein, can be seen as his masterpiece. The accompanying verses were written by William Allingham (qv). Its huge success can also be attributed to the extraordinarily high quality of colour reproduction achieved by the printer, Edmund Evans. During the later part of his career Doyle devoted himself to watercolour painting, with his favoured theme being that of fairies. An example of his work of this period, ‘The triumphal entry, a fairy pageant’, is in the collection of the NGI.
Richard Doyle died in London on 11 December 1883. While he may be best known for his charming fairy pictures, he also made an important contribution to the development of caricature. His elder brother, James William Edmund Doyle (1822–92), was a draughtsman and historian, his major work being Historical baronage of England (1886), while his younger brother, Henry Edward Doyle (qv), was appointed director of the NGI in 1869. His youngest brother, Charles Altamount Doyle (1832–93), a talented watercolour artist, worked as surveyor in the Scottish office of works, Edinburgh, and was the father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930).