Robert West was the first master of the art schools in Dublin, established circa 1746 and one of the most important figures in the development of Irish Art. An elusive figure, West studied in Paris under Van Loo and Boucher. William Carey, the Cork critic, writing in 1826 said of West, 'West, with all Van Loo's prowess in chalks, drew in a purer style, with more truth and sweetness and without a tincture of that celebrated draughtsman's mannered squareness' (W. Carey, Some Memoirs of Patronage and Progress of the Fine Arts in England and Ireland, London, 1826). The English engraver William Wynne Ryland in The Diary of Visit to England in 1775, published 1854, remarked 'that old West was the best drawer in red chalks at Paris, of his time, and that for drawing in general he was the best scholar of VenLoo [sic]'.
We have attributed the present drawing of Speaker Boyle to Robert West, but no exact comparable drawing survives to support the attribution. It is a grisaille chalk study, which on first appearance one would associate with one of West's better pupils, Robert Healy. However Henry Boyle, born in 1682, was Speaker of the Irish House of Commons between 1733 and 1756, when he was created Earl of Shannon. These dates eliminate Healy, who only became a student of the Schools in 1765 and Boyle is shown here with his long Speaker's wig and as a very realistic study, it would not appear to be a posthumous portrait. Boyle looks like a man in his 60s, in which case the picture would have to be drawn in the 1740s when West was starting the schools and had not yet trained any pastellists. It can be compared to the other known image of Boyle drawn from life by Stephen Slaughter (1697-1765), signed and dated 'Dublin 1745' and inscribed 'The Right Hon. Henry Boyle Esq./Lord Justice. Speaker of the Hon. House of/Commons of Ireland.' (Sotheby's, London, 5 November 1986, lot 60) and which portrays him at a similar age as in the present portrait. The present drawing reflects West's French training and in its quality lives up to the eulogies of West's drawing quoted above.
Boyle was born at Castlemartyr, Co. Cork, the second son of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Boyle and on the death of his elder brother, succeeded to the family estates at Castlemartyr. He was elected Member of Parliament for Middleton (1707-13) and for Kilmallock (1713-15), in 1715 he was returned as Member of Parliament for Co. Cork. In 1733 Boyle was made a member of the privy council, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and commissioner of the revenue in Ireland, he was also elected Speaker of the House of Commons in this year. Boyle resigned from the Speakership in 1756 and was granted an annual pension of two thousand pounds for thirty-one years, with the titles Baron of Castlemartyr, Viscount Boyle and Earl of Shannon. He died at Dublin on 27 September 1764. Sir Robert Walpole is stated to have obtained a high opinion of Boyle and to have styled him 'the King of the Irish Commons.'
This drawing is to be included in the forthcoming book by A. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, Irish Painting, to be published by Yale University Press, 2002.