William Percy French was a landscape painter and illustrator born in Co. Roscommon in 1854. He was home-schooled and his tutor, Reverend James Rowntree said, ‘his outstanding qualities were wit and humour, patience, sympathy and a gentle kindness. He was highly endowed by nature, possessing a keen power of observation and good artistic talent.’ He studied at Trinity College, Dublin but claimed that his interests were the banjo, lawn tennis and watercolour painting rather than academic studies.
The beginning of Percy’s artistic career was after he viewed the annual exhibition of the Watercolour Society of Ireland. He believed he could paint just like them and so he submitted works successfully the following year. After leaving Trinity, he then worked as an engineer in Co. Cavan when he formed an entertainment group in his spare time and a sketching club to take advantage of the countryside, which was his favourite. French travelled all around Ireland, rarely passing by any town without visiting it.
In 1908, French exhibited works in London and was commissioned by the Royal Family to paint two works for the Queen of Spain. Through his work, we can see that he not only loved his home land, but also the people. He made a point to avoid politics at all cost as the conditions of society upset him. When he visited Glenveigh Castle in Donegal, he wrote in the visitors book, ‘Remember me is all I ask and yet if that remembrance proves a task – forget’.
Shortly after Percy’s death, the Irish Times wrote, ‘he was a painter of great charm who preferred painting to writing as a means of expression. He was the most industrious of men. He never seemed to rest.’