Robertson, Charles (c.1760–1821), miniature painter, was born in Dublin into a family of jewellers and miniaturists on Ormond Quay; perhaps that of Alexander Robertson, who died at Ormond Quay in July 1768. He lived and possibly trained with his elder brother Walter, who was already established in a studio in Essex St., Dublin. From 9 years of age (1769) until 1774 he was exhibiting ‘designs in hair’ with the Society of Artists in William St., and from 1775 he exhibited miniatures. By the time he was 15 (1775) he had his own studio at 69 South Great Georges St., and in 1783 he lived at an address in Clarendon St. He went to London for seven years (1785–92), painted miniatures, and exhibited with the Royal Academy (1790–1810). He made another short visit to London (1806) but eventually settled at 7 Holles St., Dublin, and took an active part in the city's artistic life, exhibiting ‘flower pieces’ and miniatures (1800–02, 1811–21). He became secretary and later vice-president (1814) of the Hibernian Society of Artists and was a member of the committee seeking the formation of an Irish Academy of Painting, but unfortunately he died two years before the founding of the RHA (1823). Robertson painted very fine portraits, which he never signed, but they are often identified by his distinctive choice of pale grey-blues used in the flesh tones, giving a cool reserved look to his sitters. His female portraits are warmer and appealing, a good example being a portrait of a lady wearing a white dress (NGI, 19276; Mary A. McNeill bequest). There is a portrait of Robertson painted in his studio by Henry Brooke Kirchhoffer, RHA. The artist is portrayed complete with his miniature-painting desk, an important element in his art, and both the actual desk and the painting are in the NGI collection. He married Christina Noletar Jaffrey (of whom an unfinished portrait by him is in the NGI); they had several children. He died on 10 November 1821 at his house in Holles St., aged 62.
One of his daughters, Clementina Robertson (1795–p. 1853), born in Dublin, was a miniature-painter, trained by her father. She was very competent, painting a little in the manner of her father, and exhibited (1812–17) with the Society of Artists. She married (1830) a medical student, John Siree, who died (1835) of a fever in Fleet St., aged 35. Fortunately she was able to support herself with her miniature-portrait practice, and she taught music, languages, and drawing. She exhibited five portraits with the RHA (1826) and three more (1828) from an address in Summerhill, Dublin, and as ‘Mrs Siree’ exhibited a ‘portrait of a young lady’ (1831) from an address at 10 Russell St. A portrait by her of her husband is in the NGI. In 1853 she was living at 3 Westland Row; it is thought she died soon after.
Walter Robertson (c.1750–1801), miniature-painter and elder brother of Charles, was a student at the Dublin Society's School of Drawing (1765), where he proved to be an excellent draughtsman and was given a prize of £2 for his studies of the human figure and heads (1766). Soon after, he set up a miniature-portrait practice in Essex St., and like his younger brother Charles exhibited ‘designs in hair, likenesses, and miniatures’ with the Society of Artists (1767–77). He moved to London (1784–92) where he continued to paint portraits. He was married twice: to Margaret Bentley (1771), who presumably died before him, and to Eleanor Robertson (1781), who survived him. When he returned to Dublin he was declared bankrupt and his property was sold at auction. He had relied on the American artist Gilbert Stuart (qv), who had come to Dublin to avoid his debtors in England, to supply him with clients, but the suspended session of parliament (1792) meant a shortage of sitters. Both men were in desperate financial straits and fled to America (1793). It is uncertain what became of Robertson's family during these unpleasant events. He stayed with John James Barralet (qv) in Philadelphia and was commissioned to paint a portrait of Washington (1794). An engraving was made of this portrait and he also painted Mrs Washington and other notable figures. He was known as ‘Irish Robertson’ so that he would not be confused with the two Scottish miniaturists of the same name. Evidently an adventurous character, he left America (1795) and headed for India, where he died at Futtehpore in 1801. His portrait painted by his brother Charles is in the NGI, and examples of his own work can be found in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington.