Hayes, Michael Angelo (1820–77), painter, was born 25 July 1820 in Waterford, son of Edward Hayes (1797–1864), originally of Tipperary, a painter of fashionable portraits and landscapes; his mother's name is not known. He received his artistic training from his father, and began to establish himself as an artist as early as 1836, when he published a set of aquatints, ‘Car driving in the south of Ireland’, which achieved great popularity and was reprinted a number of times. He exhibited at the RHA for the first time in 1837. His early rise to artistic prominence earned him the appointment of military painter-in-ordinary to the lord lieutenant (1842). He went on to become best known for large-scale military scenes such as ‘Lancers breaking the square at Aliwal’ (1846) and ‘Charge of the light dragoons at the battle of Moodkee’ (1847), the drama of which allowed him to indulge his fascination with the depiction of the horse in motion.
He spent some time in London in the 1840s, where he exhibited at the New Society of Painters in Watercolour, of which he became an associate member in 1848. In that year he also exhibited at the Royal Academy for the only time in his career. Having returned to live in Dublin, he was elected an associate member of the RHA in April 1853, and a full member in October 1854. On 5 March 1856 he was appointed secretary to the academy. His tenure was accompanied by considerable upheaval as he sought to place the academy's chaotic financial and administrative affairs in order. Though he was successful in this, his actions alienated a section of the membership including Bernard Mulrenin and George Petrie (qv). Relations between Hayes and Petrie were particularly hostile. Hayes maintained that under academy regulations, as he had not exhibited for two years, Petrie's membership was forfeit. Matters came to a head in December 1856 when a new council was elected with Petrie as president and Mulrenin as secretary. Hayes and his supporters refused to recognise them. With the academy in a state of schism, the lord lieutenant was called upon to intervene, though he was reluctant to do so. In October 1857 Petrie was again elected president; Hayes was not reinstated as secretary until October 1861, holding the position until 1870. Throughout the affair Hayes held fast to the position which he outlined in his pamphlet The Royal Hibernian Academy, a glance at its former management and recent proceedings (1857). Perhaps somewhat ironically, a fine watercolour of the interior of St Patrick's cathedral, once attributed to Petrie, has in recent years been reattributed to Hayes (Watercolours of Ireland, 152, n. 51).
In 1876 he read a paper to the RDS, ‘The delineation of animals in rapid motion’, which he published as a pamphlet in the following year. This was the culmination of a lifelong study of the paces of the horse. The conclusions to which he came were proved to be largely accurate when in 1879 (over a year after his death) the American Eadweard Muybridge published his sequential photographs of the horse in motion. This showed Hayes had been right: the artistic convention of showing the gallop, with the horse's legs spread out in a ‘flying’ position, was incorrect. He had realised through careful observation, unaided by photographic equipment, that in order to propel itself forward, the horse must gather its legs beneath it. His illustrations for this pamphlet show his awareness of this period of suspension prior to its being captured on camera. Thus, his work in this area forms a significant contribution to the development of the depiction of horses in art, which was a topic of much debate in the mid-nineteenth century. His work also gives an insight into the impact of the new technique of photography on the fine arts, in that – despite this knowledge – Hayes did not reject entirely the existing convention which he had so clearly disproved. In his pamphlet he acknowledged the power of such a familiar convention to convey a sense of action and speed; indeed, it is one which he used in his own large-scale military paintings. However, he also explored his own findings in works such as the drawing ‘Portrait of Charles Brindley, huntsman to the Ward Union Hounds’ (NGI) which was part of a series designed to illustrate the motions of the horse. This work is very much a display of the artist's virtuosity: not only does he depict the moment of suspension, but he placed the horse at a difficult oblique angle.
He was also known in public life in Dublin due to the posts he held in Dublin corporation. Peter Paul McSwiney (qv), whose sister Hayes had married, appointed him his secretary on his election as lord mayor (1864). His ‘View down Sackville Street’ (1858; NGI) includes McSwiney's shop. In 1867 he became city marshal. He died accidentally at his home in Dublin on 31 December 1877 as a result of drowning, having fallen into the water tank while inspecting it. He was buried at Glasnevin cemetery.