Art and Emo Court

Jonathan Fisher
C1740 - 1809

Jonathan Fisher was a Dublin draper from the Liberties who became a landscape painter. He is a rather enigmatic figure, some of whose biographical details remain a little hazy, and it is unclear as to whether he was self-taught or received some tuition in England.

He exhibited with the Society of Artists from 1765 until 1801, but his pictures were not very popular and he was forced to take a position with the Stamp Office where he remained until his death. The prints which were made after his drawings were more successful, and in 1770 he published six Views of Killarney and followed them in 1772 with six Views of Carlingford. Other sets followed, with, in 1789, a Picturesque Tour of Killarney which was dedicated to his friend and patron, John, 1st Earl of Portarlington. This was, as the frontispiece says, " a compliment (that) his Lordship's knowledge and love of the Arts entitle him to, exclusive of the personal respect and obligations of the Author" - the Earl had become Fisher's patron.

Jonathan Fisher stayed at Emo Court and assisted the Countess of Portarlington with her own painting and drawing. In August 1781, the Countess was looking forward to starting a portrait of her little son, for Mr Fisher "will clean my brushes and lay my palette". When the Earl was in Dublin, he often resided at Fisher's house in William Street.

His major work was a Scenery of Ireland in 1796, and four of his drawings were used in Grose's Antiquities of Ireland. (Francis Grose was a close friend of James Gandon, who travelled Ireland making notes of worthwhile sights. Fisher too is described as one of "Mr Gandon's intimate acquaintances". )

Gandon speaks of the state of the arts in Dublin when he arrived there in rather scathing terms: "The few houses to which I had access scarcely possessed a picture or print, and those which they had were mostly indifferent ... there were few painters of eminence ... Home, Wheatley and Hone in portrait; Ashford and Fisher in landscape, but these last two gentlemen depended more for their income on places which they held, than on the results of their professional labours."

In 1999, one of Jonathan Fisher's original paintings of the lakes of Killarney was sold for £250,000, and in 2007 a set of four views of Belvoir House Co Down painted in 1767 by Fisher were offered for sale by Sothebys in London with an estimate of £800,000 - £1.2 million.

Several examples of his work can be seen at the National Gallery in Dublin, and also at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the City Art Gallery in Manchester.

J S Powell: Pavilioned in Splendour
Irish Times Saturday June 12 1999 and Saturday October 27 2007
James Gandon, edited by Thomas Mulvany: The Life of James Gandon pp148-149