Osborne, William (1823–1901), portraitist and animal painter, was born in February 1823 in Dublin, son of a clerk in Messrs Ferrier, Pollock & Co., wholesale haberdashers, of Fishamble St., Dublin. He initially worked as a clerk with Ferrier, Pollock & Co., but showed considerable artistic talent as a youth, and in 1845 entered the Royal Hibernian Academy, Abbey St., as a student. In 1851 he held his first exhibition at the RHA, exhibiting three paintings, ‘A boy’, ‘A girl’, and ‘A dog’. He initially worked as a portraitist, but it soon became obvious that his real talent lay in painting animals, especially horses and dogs. He spent many hours studying the characteristics of these animals, and it was later remarked that his dog paintings were ‘full of life and vitality, well-drawn and in good colouring, often with touches of humour’ (Strickland, 208).
He initially lived and worked at 29 Pleasants St., Dublin, but in 1852 moved to Heytesbury St. and in 1854 to 47 Dawson St.; he was elected an associate of the RHA later the same year (13 October 1854). In 1861 he moved to 5 Cornish Terrace, Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, where he continued to live and work until his death. Maintaining his connection with the RHA, he exhibited paintings there on a regular basis and was elected a member in July 1868. He established a reputation as an animal painter of some talent and, seen as the natural successor to the animal painter George Nairn (1799–1850), was in constant demand to carry out commissions for horse-owners, trainers, and hunt masters. Among these early commissions were ‘The Italian greyhounds of the Hon. Mrs Plunkett’ (exhibited RHA, 1863), ‘Favourite horses of the earl of Charlemont’ (1863), and ‘Study of a tiger's head in the Royal Zoological Gardens, Phoenix Park’ (1873). He also carried out commissions for officers of several cavalry regiments stationed in Ireland. These pictures included ‘ “Bob”: charger of the 14th Hussars’ (1874) and ‘ “The Moor”: a charger of the Scots Greys’ (1874).
A popular artist with the fox-hunting fraternity, he carried out paintings for some of the more prestigious hunts in Ireland, including ‘The Curraghmore Hunt’, a commission for William Lygon Pakenham (qv), 4th earl of Longford. In 1880 he exhibited at the RHA two of his best-known hunting paintings: ‘The Ward Hunt’ and ‘An old huntsman: the late Charles Brindley, Ward Union Hunt’. While ‘The Ward Hunt’ is often criticised for the wooden appearance of some of the figures, this may be due to the fact that the hunt master insisted on all the members being included in the painting, resulting in a rather overcrowded canvas.
He married (1855) Ann Jane Woods (d. 1910). Their second son was Walter Frederick Osborne (qv). Three of William Osborne's paintings are in the collection of the NGI: ‘The Ward Hunt’, ‘Mare and foal’, and ‘Portrait of a dog named “Garryowen” ’. ‘“Bob”: charger of the 14th Hussars’ is in the mess of the King's Royal Hussars, Peninsula Barracks, Winchester, England. In 1898 Walter Frederick Osborne exhibited at the RHA a portrait of his father, which is now in a private collection.