1881 – 1968
Ulster’s best-loved artist was born on 9 May 1881 in Fortingale Street, North Belfast, and educated at Clifton Park Central National School and the Government School of Design. In 1904 he became an apprentice lithographer (David Allen and Sons) and first exhibited his paintings in 1910. He was appointed a war artist in 1914 and made many sketches of soldiers and munitions workers.
He exhibited in Dublin (Royal Hibernian Academy) in 1918, and, after moving to London, at the Royal Academy in 1921. He returned to Belfast the same year and subsequently opened studios at 7 Chichester Street, 1 Wellington Place and 11a Stranmillis Road. Apart from a short stay in Philadelphia in 1926, he remained in his native city until his death.
His many official commissions include the opening of the Northern Ireland parliament (commissioned by King George V), and a mural, Ulster Past And Present, for the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery (now the Ulster Museum). But his enduring achievement is his many impressions of ordinary Belfast working people and scenes – mill girls, people in a cinema queue, shipyard workers, Orange processions – in which he raised the art of crayon drawing to the level of genius.
The many honours he received in later life include the O.B.E. (1952) and presidency of the Royal Ulster Academy (1957 to 1964). He died at his home – 107 Salisbury Avenue (Antrim Road), Belfast – on 5 February 1968 and was buried at Carnmoney. The then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir Terence O’Neill, read one of the lessons at his funeral.
Location of plaque:
At his last studio, 11a Stranmillis Road (now the Café Conor).
Although the plaque is headed ‘Belfast City Council’ it is in fact the first of the Ulster History Circle’s plaques