Moynan, Richard Thomas (1856–1906), painter, was born 27 April 1856, at 1 Eldon Terrace, off the South Circular Road, Dublin, fourth of eight children (three sons and five daughters) of Richard Moynan, who held a managerial position in the fabric importers Ferrier, Pollock & Co., and his wife Harriet, daughter of Arthur Noble, a Church of Ireland clergyman. Moynan initially studied medicine but, shortly before his final examinations, he changed tack and opted instead for a career in art, commencing his artistic training in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in the autumn of 1879. He soon had success within the art school system, achieving prizes in the Taylor and the Cowper competitions. He progressed to the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1882, where he won both silver and bronze medals for his work, crowning these achievements in 1883 with the Albert scholarship for the best picture shown in the RHA by a student. This painting, ‘The last of the 24th at Isandula’, representing an episode in the Zulu wars, demonstrates the artist's unionist outlook, a characteristic evident throughout his career.
Following the example of fellow Irish painters Walter Osborne (qv), Nathaniel Hill (1860-1930), and J. M. Kavanagh (qv), Moynan enrolled in the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts in Antwerp in October 1883. His Dublin colleagues Roderic O'Conor (qv) and Henry Allan (qv) registered for the same course. The intensity of his studies was such that, for the first time in four years, he did not contribute to the RHA exhibition, but instead focused on preparing for the most important competition in the Académie, the annual concours. This approach yielded the desired results, and he gained the highest accolade, attaining first place in painting from the living model. This prestigious award ranked him among the elite, allowing the privilege of special tuition from the professor of painting, Karl Verlat (1824–90), as well as extra studio space, facilitating painting the human figure in life scale. This success influenced his decision to remain in Antwerp for another year. He returned to Ireland immediately after the concours, and on 9 April 1884 he married his cousin, Suzanna Mary Moynan, at her home in Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
Moynan completed a further year at Antwerp, producing a number of works depicting group interiors such as ‘The reading lesson’ (1884), ‘Girls reading a newspaper’ (1885), ‘The laundress’ (1885), and ‘What does it want?’ (1885/6). These canvases are painted in a highly academic style, rendering architectural features, furniture, and textiles in great detail, with particular reference to Dutch seventeenth-century tradition. But, ever anxious to broaden his artistic experience, be moved on to the Académie Julian in Paris in 1886, studying under Collin, Courtois, Robert-Fleury, and Bouguereau. His sojourn in the French capital facilitated a lighter palette, looser brushstrokes, and a brief flirtation with the square-brush technique.
Moynan returned to Dublin in the winter of 1886, where he set up practice as a professional painter. Conscious of the importance of networking, he joined a number of artistic associations. He became a committee member of the Dublin Art Club and president of the Dublin Sketching Club (1889), and consolidated his position by joining the freemasons. Works dating from this period demonstrate his ability to interpret imaginatively the role of the artist in society. The 1887 painting ‘We hope we don't intrude’ (NGI) shows the painter in his studio in Harold's Cross welcoming a group of ladies into his small, well equipped workplace. This theme is reinforced in ‘Taking measurements’ (1887, NGI), depicting the artist sketching a cast of a lion, from the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus, in the hall of the National Gallery of Ireland.
During the late 1880s Moynan worked as a political illustrator on the Union newspaper under the pseudonym ‘Lex’. His diverse cartoons present a lively and amusing commentary on the political scene, demonstrating the artist's strongly held unionist views.
A constant contributor to the RHA, he was elected an associate member in 1889, achieving full membership the following year. Moynan was a dedicated family man. His wife Suzanna modelled for many works, such as ‘The plumed hat’ (1888) and ‘What shall I say?’ (1889). His children, Eileen (known as ‘Bridget’; b. 1887) and Richard Francis Henry (b. 1891), are depicted in formal pieces such as ‘The little grandmother’ (1893) and ‘Master Dick’ (1896). But his daughter is more intimately portrayed with his wife in ‘Suzanna and Bridget’, a work clearly intended for the family circle. Moynan had a special rapport with children of all classes. Many of his successful genre pieces, such as ‘Military manoeuvres’ (1891, NGI) and ‘A travelling show’ (1892), celebrate children at play in a rural environment.
Moynan's studio practice soon settled into a regular pattern. Each year he focused on one large-scale painting for the RHA such as ‘Cromwell and the portrait of Charles I’ (1898) and ‘Jo’ (1899), augmenting this work with portraiture and lesser pieces exhibited in the Dublin Art Club and the Dublin Sketching Club. A trip to Switzerland in 1890 marks the first indication of his ongoing battle with tuberculosis. This may have prompted a strong empathy with Dublin street children, known as ‘street Arabs’. He explored their plight, depicting isolated figures set against a neutral background. Works such as ‘Tired out’ (1898) demonstrate the vulnerability of a young boy exhausted from his employment as a street sweeper.
As Moynan's illness progressed, his output as a painter decreased dramatically. His final work, ‘A street Arab's tribute’ (1902, NGI), exploring the psychological impact of the death of Queen Victoria, linked two of his favourite themes: unionism and the actions of street children. Moynan died 11 April 1906 and was interred in the family vault in Mount Jerome, Dublin. His paintings form a unique body of work reflecting the social and political landscape of his day.