Artist Biographies

William J Leech RHA 1881 - 1968

Born in Parnell Square, Dublin in 1881, William Leech was educated in Dublin and later under private tutors in Switzerland. Returning to live in Clontarf in 1898, he studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and later at the Royal Hibernian Academy Schools, coming under the influence of Walter Osborne who, Leech said, taught him ‘everything I needed to know’. In 1901, he moved to Paris, further developing his skills as an artist. Leech first exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1899 and was appointed an associate of the RHA in 1907 and a full member in 1910. Earlier he had returned to Dublin from Brittany, exhibiting in 1907 with Constance Gore-Booth and Casimir Markiewicz and the Irish Times noted that this was ‘the first time that a collected exhibition of Mr Leech’s work has been shown in Dublin’. In the following years, 1908 and 1909, he again exhibited in Dublin, in the company of Dermod O’Brien, Markiewicz, Gore-Booth and George Russell. Much influenced by his time in France, he continued to exhibit and was an admirer of the work of Paul Cezanne. Moving to London in 1910, Leech continued to be a faithful exhibitor at the RHA and in a period of 68 years, missed only 10 exhibitions. In 1912 he exhibited ‘Visions of Switzerland, Venice, etc’ in London, earning the attention of The Times of London. Leech won a bronze medal in 1914 at the Paris Salon and exhibited also at the Royal Academy, at the International Society of Sculptors, Painting and Gravers, the London Salon and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. He continued to exhibit in Paris, London and Dublin and later in Brussels in 1930 and in Wellington, New Zealand in 1939. He supported the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1945 and exhibited at the Oireachtas Exhibitions from 1945 to 1952. He exhibited at the Dawson Gallery in Dublin in 1945, with further one man shows in 1947 and 1951, later exhibiting with Evie Hone. His work is included in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, the Ulster Museum and the Crawford Gallery Cork. The Artist’s second marriage was in 1953 to May Botterell, and from 1958, they lived at Candy Cottage, where Leech built a studio. This present work shows a view across the window sill into the garden at Candy Cottage. This cottage was an idyllic Tudor-style cottage with diamond-paned mullioned windows and a pretty garden, in which Leech had built his studio. This work was painted during the final happy decade of his life, when he was in his late seventies, and he manages ‘to capture the light and vibrancy of colour’ in this intimate work. A retrospective exhibition took place at the National Gallery of Ireland in 1996 and then moved to Musée des Beaux-Arts in Brittany, followed by the Ulster Museum. This exhibition was accompanied by a significant book on the artist, William John Leech; An Irish Painter Abroad, by Denise Ferran, who comprehensively documented this most significant of Irish Artists.
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