RICHARD THOMAS MOYNAN. RHA (1856 - 1906) Only a Poor Little Crossing Sweeper

RICHARD THOMAS MOYNAN. RHA (1856 - 1906) Only a Poor Little Crossing Sweeper



Only a Poor Little Crossing Sweeper

Oil on canvas

Framed: 127 x 105 cm
Unframed: 114 x 93 cm

The Irish artist, Richard Thomas Moynan (1856-1906), painted a variety of subjects that reflected the social, political and economic landscape of his day. As a student at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and the Royal Hibernian Academy, he won many academic prizes, but his crowning achievement occurred in 1883 when he was awarded the Albert Prize, 'for the best picture shown in the Academy by a student' (Strickland, 1989, p. 144). Roderic O'Conor, C.E. Lodge and H.C. Tisdell were also contenders for this coveted award. Winning the Albert Prize facilitated Moynan's move to the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp where he followed in the footsteps of Irish artists such as Walter Osborne, Joseph Malachy Kavanagh and Nathaniel Hill.
It was only a matter of six months before:
'He gained the first place for painting from the living model in the annual 'concours,' in which a hundred students of all nationalities competed.'
(Walter Strickland, 1989, p. 144)
This entitled Moynan to private tuition from the Director of the Academy, Karel Verlat. During the artist's second year in Antwerp, the college admitted its most famous student, Vincent Van Gogh. However, the Dutchman's temperament proved to be incompatible with the Academy's ethos and, two months later, he moved on to Paris. In 1885, Moynan also moved to Paris to study portraiture at the Academy Julian under 'Collin, Courtois, Robert-Fleury and Bouguereau'. (Strickland, 1989, p. 144)
Returning to Dublin in the winter of 1886, Moynan made several self-portraits to showcase his newly-developed skills. Two works from this series, The Artist in His Studio at Harold's Cross (1887) and Taking Measurements (1887), are in the National Gallery of Ireland collection, while a third adorns the dining room of University College Galway.
Moynan was a dedicated father whose rapport with children was noted as far away as London:
Mr Moynan was chiefly a figure painter, and his favourite subject was child life in the slums. (Obituary of Richard Thomas Moynan: London Times, 11th April 1906)
He made many large compositions depicting children at play: Tug of War (1891), A Travelling Show (1892) Ball in the Cap (1893), Invitation to go Haymaking (1898), A Game of Skill (1890s). But, the most celebrated of these works is Military Manoeuvres (1891), (National Gallery of Ireland). This genre-piece depicts boys parading through Main Street Leixlip, pretending to be a military band.
But the artist also painted smaller canvases featuring a single child. These so called Street Arabs were associated with an occupation. The Newspaper Seller (1891) is the first of many works dealing with this subject. Three years later the same child featured in Only a Waif, Cold and Wearied (1894). This signed and dated painting shows a sleeping boy in three-quarter view, clutching a sheaf of newspapers. He is seated in an alleyway, dressed in a coat, muffler, skull-cap and knee-length trousers. His left foot rests on his right, in an effort to avoid contact with the cold ground. The artist's palette reverts to his Antwerp days and is compiled chiefly of browns and greens, relieved only by the paleness of the boy's face, the whiteness of the newspapers, and the orange muffler at the child's throat.
This canvas is very similar to the smaller painting The Little Newspaper Boy, in this catalogue. The child is seated in left profile, wearing identical clothing to the subject in Only a Waif, Cold and Wearied, with a newspaper secured under his arm, and his hands are similarly tucked into the sleeve of his jacket to provide warmth. Once again his left foot rests on his right to help fend off the cold, but his eyes are open and downcast. The clean face of the child suggests pride in his appearance despite his poverty.