Francis Wheatley, English, 1747-1801
Title: The Dublin Volunteers on College Green, 4th November 1779
Date: 1779-1780
Medium: Oil on canvas
175 x 323 cm
Credit Line: Presented, 5th Duke of Leinster, 1891
Object Number: NGI.125
DescriptionThe Volunteer Movement formed by the Protestant Ascendancy existed from 1778 to 1784, with the purpose of supporting the Irish parliament and gaining economic and legislative power from Britain. An army of local regiments was raised, ostensibly to defend the country. In 1779 the celebration of King William III’s birthday by the Dublin Volunteers was a colourful occasion. One thousand armed men, from shopkeepers to the 2nd Duke of Leinster, their colonel, gathered at the centre of Dublin in a square formation around the freshly repainted statue of the king on College Green, and volleys were fired by two cannons. The bronze statue, by Grinling Gibbons, was subsequently much abused before being destroyed in 1929. The duke stands at the centre, one of the few figures identified in a published key. The main building is the eighteenth-century Parliament House by Edward Lovett Pearce, the first purpose-built parliament building in modern Europe. The 1750s façade of Trinity College survives, but the dome beyond has gone.
Francis Wheatley was newly arrived from London after fleeing debt collectors when he produced this work, and recorded the event with some licence to accommodate the figures. With no specific commission for this rare scene of contemporary history, he even tried to raffle it, however it seems the Duke of Leinster bought it soon after.

March 2016
ProvenanceIn January 1781 it was announced that the picture would be disposed of by raffle at Wheatley's house, 39 Grafton Street, Dublin: the result of the raffle is not recorded; William Robert, 2nd Duke of Leinster; deposited in the National Gallery of Ireland on loan by Charles William, 4th Duke of Leinster, 1875; presented by G. Fitzgerald, 5th Duke of Leinster, 1891
Exhibition HistorySociety of Artists, Dublin, 1780

Dublin Exhibition, 1853

Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1954-1955

Francis Wheatley, Royal Academy, London; Aldeburgh; Leeds, 1965

Irish Icons, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 20 October 2000 - 22 April 2001

Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm, Tate Britain, London, 30 September 2013 - 5 January 2014
Label TextWheatley was a new arrival from London when he witnessed this spectacle, to mark William III’s birthday, in front of Trinity College in Dublin. The Dublin Volunteers, a self-governing militia formed by the Protestant Ascendancy, are shown assembled around Grinling Gibbons’s bronze statue of the King (destroyed in 1929). According to contemporary newspaper reports, the Volunteers fired a series of volleys of gun and cannon fire and ‘at every discharge of the musketry, repeated huzzas were given by the surrounding multitude’.

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