Martin Archer Shee (1769-1850)
Sir Martin Archer Shee PRA (23 December 1769 – 13 August 1850) was an Irish portrait painter and president of the Royal Academy. He was born in Dublin, of an old Irish Roman Catholic family, the son of Martin Shee, a merchant, who regarded the profession of a painter as an unsuitable occupation for a descendant of the Shees. His son Martin nevertheless studied art in the Royal Dublin Society and came to London. There, in 1788, he was introduced by Edmund Burke to Joshua Reynolds, on whose advice he studied in the schools of the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1789 he exhibited his first two pictures, the "Head of an Old Man" and "Portrait of a Gentleman." Over the next ten years he steadily increased in practice. He was chosen an associate of the Royal Academy in 1798, in 1789 he married Mary, eldest daughter of James Power of Youghal, and in 1800 he was elected a Royal Academician. He moved to George Romney's former house at 32 Cavendish Square, and set up as his successor. In addition to his portraits he executed various subjects and historical works, such as Lavinia, Belisarius, his diploma picture "Prospero and Miranda", and the "Daughter of Jephthah." On the death of Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1830, Shee was chosen president of the Royal Academy in his stead and shortly afterwards received a knighthood. In 1831 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In an examination before the parliamentary committee of 1836 concerning the functions of the Royal Academy, he ably defended its rights. He continued to paint till 1845, when illness made him retire to Brighton. He was deputised for at the Academy by J. M. W. Turner, who had appointed him a trustee of the projected Turner almshouse. From 1842–1849, he was the first president of the Birmingham Society of Artists. Shee died in Brighton in 1850 and was buried in the western extension to St Nicholas' Churchyard in Brighton. His headstone remains, but has been laid flat and moved to the perimeter of the site.