Rothwell, Richard (1800–68), portrait and subject painter, was born 20 November 1800 in Dublin. His father has generally been stated to be James Rothwell (possibly a soldier) of Lisdaly, near Cloghen, King's Co. (Offaly), though primary source evidence suggests that he was the son of William Rothwell, gentleman, who appears in the 1820s as a publican of Ferbane, King’s Co., acquiring land at Ballicknahee, King’s Co. His mother was Elizabeth Rothwell (née Holmes). He had at least three siblings (a brother and two sisters) and possibly as many as six. He attended (1814–20) the (Royal) Dublin Society School of Art, where his talent for drawing soon became apparent and he was awarded a silver medal (1820) for his painting in oils. He left the art school and established himself as a portrait painter in Dublin. The Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) was founded in 1823 and Rothwell was elected an associate member and soon after a full member. He first exhibited with them in 1826 giving an address at Eden Quay, Dublin. He showed six portraits (including one being a portrait of a Miss Stanfield, of the Theatre Royal) and some subject paintings. The number of portraits he exhibited increased yearly to 1829, indicating his growing reputation.
He moved to London (1829), where he was an assistant for a short time in the studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830), who held him in high esteem. When Lawrence died, Rothwell completed some of his unfinished pictures. Sir Edwin Landseer noted Rothwell's arrival in London, remarking on how he painted flesh as well as the old masters. Indeed, his career looked very promising, as much of Lawrence's practice passed to him and he continued to attract many distinguished sitters, thus enabling him to charge considerable rates. He exhibited in the Royal Academy (RA, 1831) showing among others a portrait of the first Viscount Beresford (qv) painted for Henry Thomas Hope, MP, of Gloucester (National Portrait Gallery, London). Rothwell, ambitious and restless, left his thriving portrait practice and went to Rome (1831) to work and study the great masters. He painted a portrait (1833) of Royal Navy captain Basil Hall (1788–1844) while in Rome, and on his return to London exhibited it in the RA (1835) with other works. It was difficult to reestablish a clientele for his portrait practice, so he decided to devote more time to history- and subject-painting.
Meanwhile he had kept up his contacts in Dublin and continued to exhibit with the RHA, showing in 1838 the ‘Novitiate mendicants’ (date of painting unknown). This is a rather attractive if sentimental rendering of a peasant boy and girl, first shown in the RA (1837) and in the British Institute (1838); it is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Rothwell married (1842) Rosa, daughter of Dr Andrew Marshall, a Belfast physician; they had several children. The family moved from London to Rathfarnham, Dublin, for five years, returning to London for a further two years (1852–4). Rothwell made short trips to America (1854, 1855), leaving his wife and children in Belfast. He then went with his family to Rome (1856–8). They settled in Leamington, Warwickshire until 1862, when he made his last showing at the RA with ‘The student's aspiration’. His contributions to the international exhibition included the ‘Calisto’ now in the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI). He was furious at the way his work was hung in the exhibition and complained bitterly about his unfair treatment to the hanging committee. He was keen that this painting, which he considered to be his best work, be bought by the NGI. Two letters (dated July 1860) addressed to the then director, G. F. Mulvany (qv), expressed this desire. The painting was eventually purchased in 1901 from a gallery in London. He continued to move around, travelling to Belfast, Paris, Brussels, and Rome, painting all the time, producing such works as ‘A sketch-souvenir of the Corso’ and ‘Ecce il canone’, both of which were shown in the RHA (1866). Rothwell caught a fever and died a week later at his home on Via Felice in Rome, 13 December 1868. He is buried in the protestant cemetery in Rome in the same graveyard as Keats. His daughter Marguerita Rosalie (Margo) Rothwell (1856–1916) was also a notable artist.