Dimensions: 34 × 24cm
Collection: Niland Collection
Born into a landed family in County Roscommon, Percy French is best remembered as a poet, entertainer and song writer whose most popular composition was Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea.
In 1872 he entered Trinity College to read engineering, but his studies appear to have taken second place to his love of music and theatre and it took him eight years to graduate. Although he never studied art, French always painted and sketched in his spare time and his work was exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy on several occasions. His success as an entertainer resulted in a great deal of travel throughout Ireland, England and beyond. He painted many of the landscapes that he encountered, including scenes of New York, Quebec and Switzerland, but always returned to the boglands and rugged hills of the west of Ireland.
Like Jack B. Yeats, whose drawings on Sligo Quay are in the collection of the Model and Niland, French chose to depict an urban scene of Sligo rather than one of the more popular rural views of the area. Unlike Yeats, French seldom included figures in his compositions and as a result his work is more topographical than documentary.
Written by Riann Coulter
Born 1854, Roscommon, Ireland.
Died 1920, Formby, England.
William Percy French was born in 1854 at Cloonyquin House, County Roscommon. He was the second son of landowner Christopher French and his wife Susan Emma (nee Percy).
He was educated in Ireland and England. In 1872 he began an engineering degree at Trinity College, Dublin. There he developed his talent for songwriting. Percy French is perhaps best known as a writer of humorous songs, but he was active also as an editor, concert promoter, landscape painter, sketch writer, poet, banjo player, and stage entertainer.
He qualified as a Civil Engineer but continued to develop his interest in music, drama, and especially painting which he then considered to be his true vocation. When later became well-known, his paintings from this time were sought after. Many depicting the Irish landscape but others provide a record of his travels in Switzerland, Canada, the USA and the West Indies. In 1887 French became the editor of a comic weekly magazine in Dublin, The Jarvey, and he promoted a series of concerts and advertised his many comic songs under the title of The Jarvey Concert Company. When The Jarvey failed after two years, French turned to the stage full time. He wrote, produced and played the major part in the revue Dublin up to Date. He also wrote the libretto for two comic operas and he played the leading role in both works. In 1891, his wife, Ettie died in childbirth, just a year and a day after their marriage, and their baby daughter died some days later. In 1894 he married Helen Sheldon, an English chorus girl. They had three daughters.
From 1900 he toured theatres and music halls throughout Britain and in 1910 he and Dr. W. Houston Collisson, his friend and musical collaborator, successfully toured Canada, east coast USA, and the West Indies. French was now based in London but performed at the holiday resorts and towns of Ireland each year and occasionally the ski resorts of Switzerland.
In 1916 he was dragged by a train and injured and his health subsequently deteriorated. Against his family’s advice he continued to tour. In the winter of 1920 he began a tour of Scotland but while performing in Glasgow he took ill; he went to the home of his cousin in Formby, Lancashire and some days later die.