Maclise, Daniel (1806–70), painter, was born 25 January 1806 at Cork, and baptised at the presbyterian church on Prince's Street, Cork, on 2 February 1806. He was the son of a soldier of Scottish descent, Alexander McLeish (1777–1861), and Rebecca McLeish (née Buchanan). After 1835 Daniel standardised the spelling of his surname as Maclise. He received his early education at Cork, and in 1820 entered Newenham's bank as a clerk, though he soon abandoned this profession to cultivate his obvious flair for art. At the drawing academy in the city he studied the collection of plaster casts of the Vatican marbles, and attended lectures in anatomy for artists given by Dr John Woodroffe at the Royal Cork Institution. Maclise quickly attracted the attention of influential literary and cultural figures in Cork, including William Penrose, Richard Sainthill, S. C. Hall (qv), and Thomas Crofton Croker (qv), whose Fairy legends and traditions of the south of Ireland was published with some illustrations by Maclise (2nd ed., 1826). A critical moment in the young artist's career occurred in 1825 when he sketched Sir Walter Scott in Bolster's bookshop, Cork. The popular success of this drawing (later lithographed in Dublin) enabled Maclise, in late 1825, to open his own studio in Patrick Street, Cork, where he worked on portrait commissions. In 1826 he visited Dublin before embarking on a walking tour of Co. Wicklow, which led to the production of many paintings and sketches of the scenery and local people. Maclise briefly returned to Cork in the autumn of 1826, before moving to London the following year to attend the Royal Academy Schools.
Maclise entered the RA Schools as a probationer in 1827, and a year later was enrolled as a painting student. He soon distinguished himself as a brilliant artist, receiving numerous medals and prizes for life drawing and history painting. He began exhibiting at the RA in 1829, and was subsequently made an associate (1830) and an academician (1840) of this institution. His reputation in London as an accomplished figure draughtsman was established by portraits of the actor Charles Kean (1827) and the celebrated violinist Niccolò Paganini (1831), both of which were subsequently lithographed. This was an intense period for Maclise socially as well as professionally; through Croker he was introduced to the London literary elite, and formed friendships with Thomas Moore (qv), Benjamin Disraeli, and W. H. Ainsworth.
Having completed his studies in London, Maclise travelled to Paris in 1830, where he studied at the Louvre, the Luxembourg, and Versailles. In 1832, he visited the English midlands and north Wales on his way back to Cork, where he and the Irish sculptor John Hogan (qv) were awarded gold medals by the Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts. Maclise travelled on to Killarney, where he made drawings of antiquities and was introduced by Croker to William Maginn (qv), the editor of Fraser's Magazine (1830–36). Under the pseudonym ‘Alfred Croquis’, Maclise contributed eighty-one character portraits of literary and political celebrities (including Croker, Moore, and Daniel O'Connell (qv)) to Fraser's Magazine, which accompanied articles written by Maginn. The drawings, elegantly executed in an economical style, were immensely successful both critically and commercially, and were later collected and published as The Maclise portrait gallery (1883), which ran into several editions. Maclise's enhanced reputation ensured his continued social success; he became acquainted with the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the Irish writer Marguerite, countess of Blessington (qv), and provided illustrations for their annual Heath's Book of Beauty (vols 3–5, 1835–7). He also met Lady Henrietta Sykes, with whom he had an affair in 1836, which prompted an abortive lawsuit filed against him two years later by Henrietta's husband. In 1836 Maclise was introduced to Charles Dickens by their mutual friend John Forster. Maclise and Dickens developed a close and enduring friendship, the artist producing a celebrated full-length portrait of the novelist in 1839 (National Portrait Gallery, London).
Maclise's professional career continued to prosper, developing in two other significant directions: illustration and history painting (often based on literary sources). He illustrated works by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Milton, Tennyson, and Dickens (notably The old curiosity shop, 1840), as well as Reliques of Father Prout (1836) by Francis Mahony (qv) and the collection Irish melodies (1845) by Moore. His love of literature and the theatre was also apparent in paintings inspired by the works of Shakespeare, Oliver Goldsmith (qv), Lesage, and Lady Morgan (Catherine Louisa Morgan (qv)). ‘The veiled prophet of Khorassan’ (1832), an oriental fantasy inspired by Moore's Lalla Rookh, was particularly successful, winning a prize of 80 guineas when it was exhibited at Liverpool.
The contemporary vogue for history painting inspired much of his most acclaimed work, including ‘Chivalrous vow of the ladies and the peacock’ (1835) and ‘The wood ranger’ (1840), which reflected the trend towards historical accuracy and narrative. He greatly admired contemporary French art and visited Paris in 1844 and 1845, particularly admiring the allegorical fresco ‘Hemicycle’ by Paul Delaroche at the École des Beaux-Arts. Maclise's most significant history paintings were ‘The marriage of Eva and Strongbow’ (1854, National Gallery of Ireland), which anticipated the Celtic revival of the later nineteenth century in its bold statement of Irish cultural nationalism, and the large murals completed for the house of lords between 1859 and 1864. The first of these murals, ‘The meeting of Wellington and Blücher’, proved so difficult to paint in fresco that Maclise almost abandoned the project; encouraged by Prince Albert, he travelled to Berlin to study the innovative waterglass technique, which enabled him to complete the Wellington mural in 1861 and paint its companion, ‘The death of Nelson’. Originally, sixteen paintings of scenes from British history had been commissioned, but when Prince Albert died in 1861 the scheme was cancelled, much to the artist's distress.
Although the physical strain of painting the parliament frescoes weakened his health, Maclise nevertheless continued to work prolifically, painting further scenes from Shakespeare as well as new subjects influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, such as ‘Madeleine after prayer’ (1868). He was also actively involved in the RA, though in 1866 he declined its presidency. His last painting, ‘The earls of Ormond and Desmond’, was on an Irish theme, and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1870.
Maclise never married, but from 1850 he supported the family of his sister Anna Banks after the death of her husband. Another sister, Isabella, kept house for Maclise, and he was distraught by her death in 1865. He died 25 April 1870 at his home, 4 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, of acute pneumonia, and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery, London. At the Royal Academy dinner of 30 April 1870, Dickens, in what was to be his last public speech, paid tribute to his friend, describing him as the ‘greatest and most modest of men’.
Collections of letters are held at TCD, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Likenesses of Maclise include two self-portraits (1829, National Gallery, London; 1829, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston); drawings by T. Bridgford (1844, NGI), C. H. Lear (1845, National Portrait Gallery, London), C. W. Cope (1846–9, Palace of Westminster, London), and C. B. Birch (1858, National Portrait Gallery, London); and marble busts by J. Thomas (1859, NGI) and E. Davis (1870, RA, London).