Howard, Hugh (1675–1737), painter, collector, and connoisseur, was born 7 February 1675 in Dublin, eldest of three sons of Ralph Howard (1638–1710), MD, of Shelton, Co. Wicklow, and his wife Katherine, daughter of Roger Sotheby, MP for Wicklow. In 1674 Ralph Howard was appointed president of the College of Physicians. He left for England with his family in 1688 and was attainted by the Irish parliament of James II (qv) in the following year. After the battle of the Boyne (1 July 1690), James was entertained at the Shelton estate which had been confiscated and handed over to a Jacobite, although subsequently Howard recovered his lands.
In 1697 Hugh Howard travelled to the Netherlands in the entourage of Thomas Herbert (qv) (1656–1733), 8th earl of Pembroke and first plenipotentiary at the treaty of Ryswick. From there he continued to Italy, where he resolved to make art his profession. Settling in Rome, he became a pupil of Carlo Maratta (1625–1713), the leading painter in the city in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Howard is one of the earliest Irish artists in Rome by whom drawings are known. His chalk drawing (Witt Collection, Courtauld Institute of Art, London) after a self-portrait by Maratta, of whom he was an apparently favourite pupil, shows him to have had a highly accomplished chalk technique. A more rapidly executed drawing in pen has also recently been attributed to him (Watercolours of Ireland, 23). It was in Italy that he developed a taste for caricature, both as a collector and as an occasional practitioner. His ‘Caricature of an old ecclesiastic’ (British Museum) is after Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674–1755), a caricaturist later popular with Irish grand tourists such as Joseph Leeson (qv) and James Caulfeild (qv).
He returned to England by way of France in October 1700. He then spent a number of years working in Dublin as a portrait painter before moving to London, where he remained for the rest of his life. Works from this period, such as ‘Bishop Peter Brown’ (1710; TCD), show the influence of fashionable English artists such as Kneller (1646–1723) and may be compared to that of his contemporary Charles Jervas (qv), though Howard's handling of details such as wigs and drapery is softer. His portrait (NGI) of the composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) is one of three versions known, the others being in the possession of the faculty of music, Oxford, and the Royal Society of Musicians, London. The Dublin portrait is the only one with the decorative border of musical instruments and scores, a novel approach in portraiture of the time.
It was as a collector and connoisseur that he derived the greatest benefit from his Italian experience. In this capacity he advised prominent figures such as Henry Herbert, 9th earl of Pembroke, and William Cavendish, 2nd duke of Devonshire. It was through the influence of the latter that he was appointed keeper of the papers and records of state (1714). In 1726 he was made paymaster general of the royal works. As a result of this he was free to abandon painting and devote himself to collecting, principally medals, drawings, and prints. He acquired works from some of the great seventeenth-century collections, including those of Thomas Howard, 2nd earl of Arundel, and the painter Sir Peter Lely. On the death of his youngest brother William Howard (1680–1727), MP for Dublin (October–December 1727), he inherited a library that had originally formed part of the collection of the noted English antiquarian and lawyer James West (c.1704–1772). Among his prints were such rarities as a first proof by Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1480–1534) of ‘Portrait of Aretino’ after Titian, as well as ‘Adam and Eve’ and ‘Melancolia’ by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). He also had some early satirical prints by Hogarth (1697–1764), the appeal of which may be related to his taste for caricature mentioned above. In all he eventually amassed a collection of over 20,000 items which was left to his brother Robert Howard (qv), bishop of Elphin, on his death. It has been estimated that at that time he was worth over £100,000 (although at his death his wealth was £40,000 and his income £1,500 a year). Robert brought the collection back to Ireland, where it passed to his son Ralph (qv), 1st Viscount Wicklow (1727–89). It remained in the family until the early 1870s, when over 2,000 items were bought by the British Museum and the rest was sold by Sotheby's of London. Viscount Wicklow was also a keen collector who made the grand tour to Italy in 1751–2.
Howard's circle included the poet Matthew Prior (1664–1721), whose poem ‘T. M. Howard: an ode’ was published in his Poems on several occasions (1709). He died in Pall Mall, London, on 17 March 1737 and was buried at Richmond, Surrey. His portrait was painted by Michael Dahl (c.1659–1743) in 1723. He married (1714) Thomasine (d. 1728), daughter and heiress of Gen. Thomas Langston.