Thursday, April 1, 2010

The art of Charles Altamont Doyle

Victorian artist Charles Altamont Doyle (1832-1893) was born into a very creative family. His father was a political cartoonist, one of his brothers was a well-respected illustrator, and the other brother was an artist who later headed Ireland's National Gallery. But Charles' watercolors never received the recognition he believed they deserved. He was never able to make a living from his artistic talents, and they only supplemented his income from a government job. His feelings of inadequacy and his physical and mental exhaustion led to alcoholism and depression, and caused him to lose the job he had held for 30 years. His whimsical scenes gave way to more morbid subjects as he was institutionalized, first for his drinking and then after a violent escape attempt. His condition deteriorated and he suffered hallucinations and epileptic seizures, which finally proved too powerful for his weakened heart and caused his death. A biographer writes:
"Ironically, it was during his time in institutions, such as the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum, that Charles created some of his best artwork. He kept several sketchbooks which he filled with watercolor drawings and pen-and-ink sketches. Most of this artwork featured elves, faerie folk, and other fantastical themes. In addition, the illustrations also featured clever wordplay, and visual puns. Doyle created this artwork to prove his sanity, sending the drawings to his family as proof of his wrongful confinement. In spite of his efforts, Doyle would remain in an asylum for the rest of his life."
Perhaps Charles' greatest accomplishment was not producing art, but children, with his wife of 10 years. They raised 7 children - the eldest and most famous of whom was Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), the creator of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Arthur held an exhibit of his deceased father's works, which Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) praised and said they deserved a room of their own in a national museum. They didn't get that, but were collected in this wonderful book.


  1. fascinating! pl tell us more!

  2. Christine,
    What fascinating information! Can't wait to read the book. I'm wondering why Doyle is not more celebrated by admirers of outsider art.


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