Grogan, Nathaniel (c.1740–1807), painter, was born in Cork, son of a woodturner and blockmaker; nothing else is known of his parents. Though apprenticed to his father, he began to show some aptitude for drawing using chalks, the only materials available to him. He received some instruction from John Butts (d. 1764) and, despite parental opposition, resolved to become a painter. However, initially he enlisted in the army and served in America. He was active as an artist there, as is evidenced by an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Ledger of December 1777, where he offered his services in ‘sign and ornamental painting’ (Watercolours of Ireland, 78).
On returning to Cork he established himself as a painter of landscapes, principally of the city and its environs. His topographical views such as ‘View of Cork’ (1780; Crawford Art Gallery, Cork) and ‘Landscape at Tivoli, Cork, with boats’ (NGI) show his skill as a draughtsman as well as his powers of composition, and are of particular interest as visual records of the appearance of the city in the eighteenth century. He is also notable for his interest in the depiction of Irish peasant life, a somewhat unusual subject for Irish artists at this time. Works such as ‘The Bantry bard’ with their humorous ‘low-life’ element show the influence on Grogan of Dutch genre painting of the seventeenth century. The style and treatment of the subject in such works also suggest his knowledge of English artists such as George Morland and Henry Walton. As he exhibited four landscapes at the Free Society of Artists exhibition in London in 1782, he may have spent some time there, and so have had the opportunity to see such work at first hand. He may also have had access to prints after their work in Cork.
He also executed decorative work such as murals at Vernon Mount, Cork. Graphic work by him is also known; he produced a number of etchings and acquatints through which his work became widely known, especially around Cork. His etching ‘North gate bridge, Cork’ (Crawford Art Gallery, Cork) shows a good command of the technique and a fine handling of architectural detail. In 1796 he produced a set of twelve views of Cork in mezzotint, while an engraving by him after a portrait of Catherine Fitzgerald, countess of Desmond (Crawford Art Gallery, Cork), suggests a greater range of subject matter.
Grogan's popularity remained high throughout the nineteenth century. Maria Edgeworth (qv) mentioned in her correspondence two works by Grogan as being of particular interest to her (Maria Edgeworth: letters from England (1972), 358). Collectors, particularly those in Cork, valued his work greatly. In 1815 the first exhibition of the Cork Society for Promoting the Fine Arts included twenty-five paintings by Grogan. His work was regularly included in subsequent exhibitions. His paintings were also included in the National Exhibition in Cork (1852). More recent study has placed Grogan as the most significant painter working in the provinces of Ireland in the later part of the eighteenth century.
He died at his home on the Mardyke, Cork city, in 1807. Though he had a large family, nineteen children, he was only survived by two sons, Nathaniel and Joseph, both of whom are known for their copies of their father's work.