Thaddeus, Henry Jones (c.1859–1929), artist, was born Henry Thaddeus Jones at 32 Nile St., Cork, eldest in the large family of Thomas Jones, artisan specialising in ‘japanning’ (imitating oriental decoration on laquerware), and his wife, an O'Sullivan of west Cork. Henry was brought up as a protestant like his father, though his mother was catholic. Aged 10, he entered the Cork School of Art and fast established himself, winning a free studentship in 1875 and doing some teaching. His 1879 submission to the RDS, ‘Composition of four figures: interior of a cottage’, won him a £15 Taylor prize, and the following year, by now a student at Heatherley's School in London, he won the £50 Taylor scholarship for ‘Renewal of a lease refused’, which was inspired by an incident in the land war, and was an early instance of his pronounced social conscience. He sold the painting to Henry Chaplin, tory MP for mid-Lincolnshire, so had enough money to leave London for Paris. After an initial rejection when he was told to go away and learn to draw, he enrolled at the Académie Julian in November 1880. In 1881 ‘The wounded poacher’ (NGI) was shown at the Paris Salon. Signed ‘Thaddeus Jones’, as he was still known, it is sympathetic towards its subject. Exhibited that year in Dublin, it was sold to Vincent Scully (qv), a banker and landowner of Co. Tipperary, who insisted on paying twice the sum demanded.
Following the fashion of artists of the period, Jones left Paris for Brittany, staying in Pont-Aven and Concarneau, where he executed a number of scenes of Breton life, including the ambitious ‘Market day in Finistère’ (1882, NGI), 2 m by 1.3 m, which was shown at the Paris Salon of 1882, and the following year at the Cork Industrial and Fine Arts Exhibition.
In late 1882 he moved to Florence, where he remained three years. He began by copying works in the Uffizi, and taking students, including the young Henry Savage Landor, who described him as ‘unusually good-looking, always smartly dressed, a witty raconteur and possessing amusing eccentricities of his own . . . he soon became the most popular fellow in town’ (Landor, 29). This last was a reference to Jones's meteoric rise to society portrait painter, initiated by his friendship with the duke of Teck, then resident in Florence. According to a critic, his portraits of the duke and duchess in the RA in 1884 ‘showed power, if not of a very agreeable kind’ (Academy, May 1884, 31). That summer he holidayed with the Tecks in Switzerland, and the following year painted their daughter, Princess May. This connection brought him commissions from notables visiting Italy, including the queen of Serbia, the Russian Princess Woronzoff, and the composer Franz Liszt. When he left for London in May 1885 he was able to establish himself as a portrait painter in a studio in 42 Claudville Grove, Brompton Road, South Kensington. Judging his surname ubiquitous, he changed his name by deed poll (22 June 1885) to ‘Henry Jones Thaddeus’ and announced this in The Times, before setting off for Rome to execute his most illustrious commission: a portrait of Pope Leo XIII. He was the first Irishman to paint a pope (and only one Englishman did so before him), and it was an unusual honour for a protestant. He was evidently sympathetic towards his mother's religion, since his portrait of Fr Anthony Maria Anderledy (1886; Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool), vicar general of the Jesuits, is among his finest works; and when in 1903 he was commissioned to paint Pope Pius X, he depicted him looking humorous and direct rather than remote and powerful. His portrait of Leo XIII was displayed (1886) in the Grosvenor Gallery, London, where it was admired by Gladstone, whom Thaddeus painted in 1888. Though a good likeness, ‘Gladstone’ was rejected by the RA (where Thaddeus never again exhibited), but sold to the Reform Club for £500. He tended to price his paintings high.
Aristocrats were his main sitters, but he also took on Irish political subjects. After meeting C. S. Parnell (qv), whom he greatly admired, in 1886, he planned a portrait which came to nothing. However he painted Michael Davitt (qv) in 1889 and the following year was commissioned by Cork Young Ireland Society to paint William O'Brien (qv) (d. 1928). Sitter and artist did not get on and Thaddeus deliberately exaggerated the size of O'Brien's nose. The unfinished portrait is in UCC. He preferred John Redmond (qv), whose portrait, executed 1901, is in the NGI. However, his greatest Irish painting was not of a politician, but a return to his earlier social themes. ‘An Irish eviction’, shown in the RHA in March 1890, depicts the police forcing a family from their home. At the opening Lord Powerscourt commented on the painting's vigour and originality; when it was shown in Liverpool six months later, the Liverpool Daily Post commented that it ‘helps to bring the horrors of the social welfare in the sister isle vividly home to English hearts’ (16 September 1890). The critic Julian Campbell has called it a ‘tour-de-force of contemporary realism [with] echoes of Victorian narrative painting’ (Campbell, 182), while Crookshank and Glin term it Thaddeus’ masterpiece and ‘one of the most powerful artistic, political statements of late-nineteenth-century Irish art’ (Ireland's painters, 263).
An inveterate traveller, Thaddeus left c.1891 for Egypt, where he returned frequently over the next three years. He was known there as ‘court painter to the khedive in Cairo’ (which gave him the title for his memoirs) but in fact he executed just one portrait of the khedive, Abbas II Hilmi (1892, Royal Collection), which he delivered in person to Queen Victoria. She failed to reciprocate with a portrait of herself, which apparently caused a rift in Anglo–Egyptian relations.
In between his travels, Thaddeus married in London (2 November 1893) Evelina Julia (1863–1946), daughter of Thomas Woodward (1814–75), dean of Down. She had recently been divorced from William Howard Murphy Grimshaw, and had three daughters, whom she was not allowed to see since her family disapproved of her marriage to Thaddeus. She was independently wealthy, so although Thaddeus was then close to bankruptcy the couple lived at a number of fashionable London addresses, and in 1900 took a lease on Maesmawr Hall in the Severn valley in Wales, where they raised two sons. Thaddeus was represented by one unremarkable portrait at Hugh Lane's (qv) exhibition of works by Irish painters at the Guildhall, London, in 1904, but his career was in decline. In 1907 he moved with his family to the US, settling near San Francisco. He had a studio, but few records of paintings remain. In 1912 he published his lively memoirs, Recollections of a court painter. He maintained a close interest in Irish affairs and his nationalist sympathies may have contributed to his pro-German stance during the war.
Returning to England about 1917, he set up home in the Isle of Wight and lived a largely reclusive life, punctuated by a visit to Cork in 1920 when he presented his portraits of Pope Pius X and of his old Cork friend, Michael Holland (d. 1950), to the School of Art, expressing a hope for ‘closer association in the future not only with the art life of my native city but with that of a regenerated nation’ (letter to Cork School of Art, 28 June 1920). However, he ceased painting and did not return again to Ireland before his death, at home in Appley Court, Isle of Wight, on 1 May 1929. He was survived by his wife and both sons, the eldest of whom he disinherited for marrying a working-class Irish-American girl.