Lee, Anthony (c.1700–1767), portrait painter, was probably born in Dublin. His family origins and background are obscure but he is possibly related to the Lee family who owned estates at Passage East near Waterford city. During the early eighteenth century Anthony Lee (or his father) acquired a number of plots on the east side of St Stephen's Green, Dublin, from William Wolseley, and he lived there throughout his life. Lee was not ‘one of the earliest painters that ever practised in Ireland’ (Pasquin, Memoirs of the Royal Academy, 52) but he was one of the first ‘society’ portraitists based in Dublin. His first dated portrait (1735) is of Joseph Leeson (qv), later 1st earl of Milltown, the wealthy landowner and art collector who had a town house nearby on St Stephen's Green. A second full-length portrait of Leeson and another of his first wife Cecilia have also been attributed to Lee. Leeson had a wide patronage network, and probably encouraged Lee with his art.
Lee may have painted from as early as the 1720s but most of the recorded portraits are from the 1740s. He secured commissions from the most prominent members of protestant society, including William Lingen, an under-secretary at Dublin Castle; Gen. Gervais Parker; Henry Maule (qv), bishop of Meath; and William Brabazon. Lee also seems to have been a successful copyist for on the back of his portrait of John, 2nd Viscount Molesworth, is written ‘painted by Lee of Dublin from an original in crayons drawn by Rosalba of Rome’. Several of his portraits were engraved. Lee's style was influenced by the work of Stephen Slaughter (qv); his forte was producing grand full-length portraits that gave some emphasis to costume, architectural backgrounds, and the accoutrements of status. His portraits seem a little wooden compared to those produced by other Dublin-based portraitists such as James Latham (qv) in the 1740s and 1750s. In 1752 he was appointed – along with other distinguished artists and sculptors such as Van Nost (qv) and Francis Bindon (qv) – as one of the assessors for the newly formed Dublin Society school of art.
The bulk of Lee's income came from property rather than painting. He made considerable sums renting out and selling plots that he owned on St Stephen's Green and elsewhere in Dublin city to builders in the 1750s and 1760s. He also inherited property from his father-in-law William Mahon of Co. Londonderry. It was perhaps Lee's social and landed status in Dublin, as well as his artistic ability, that induced prominent citizens such as William Aldrich, lord mayor of Dublin 1741–2, to have their portraits painted by him. He married (1733/4) Martha, daughter of William Mahon; they had at least two sons and two daughters. Lee died at his home on St Stephen's Green in June 1767.