Charles Bianconi, Land in Castleisland and a Mystery Portrait

The portrait of Charles Bianconi and that of the mystery lady behind which it languished all those years until its discovery in Wexford. Can anyone out there cast light on the lady’s identity?
Project manager, Janet Murphy at work on the collection in the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project. ©Photograph: John Reidy 21-7-2015

Entrepreneur Charles Bianconi, founder of a public transport system in Ireland, leased land on Main Street, Castleisland in the nineteenth century.

The late Michael O’Donohoe researched Bianconi’s link to the town, as can be read on the O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project website.

Contact from Wexford

Recently, the O’Donohoe archive was contacted by a lady from Wexford who had discovered a calendar copy of a watercolour portrait of a youthful Charles Bianconi tucked behind an old framed photo.

Project researcher, Janet Murphy explained the background to the discovery and is appealing to anyone who may have who may be able to shed light on its origins:

“The black and white photograph of a young, unidentified woman had been purchased at auction for its attractive frame and so the discovery of the Bianconi image came as a pleasant surprise.

Divane’s and Peter Robin Hill

Research by the O’Donohoe archive has revealed that the portrait, entitled Bianconi The poor Italian Boy who became Mayor of Clonmel, Ireland was issued as a calendar in the 1870s.

Just as Divane’s of Castleisland produced their collectible calendars in collaboration with artist Peter Robin Hill in recent years, the artistic almanacs were ordered by businesses as a Christmas giveaway to customers.

An Eye for Art in Norwich

In the nineteenth century, vivid descriptions of the seasonal gifts filled columns of the press and demand meant that further supplies were often ordered in.

Among those who gave away the Bianconi calendars was a grocer named Beecheno from Norwich. He clearly had an eye for art as he published, in addition to other works on the history of Norwich, a biographical sketch of Rev Edward Thomas Daniell, an artist who visited Ireland in 1831 to obtain subject material.

Portrait Artist Unknown

Another grocer, John Edward Clowes of Yarmouth, author of Chronicles of the old Congregational Church at Great Yarmouth also distributed the calendars.

The artist of the Bianconi portrait is not known and there is no indication on the original to identify the printer.

Crown Point Printing Works, Leeds

However, at about the time the calendars were issued, Crown Point Printing Works in Leeds was specialising in colour lithography and producing portraits of the famous.

In 1867, the founder and proprietor of this company, Alfred Battye Cooke, issued his first coloured sheet almanac – a production in eight colours.

Orders for pictorial art at once commenced to roll in and Mr. Cooke’s fame as an almanac printer soon spread far beyond the borders of his native town.

Jean Faustin Betbeder

By the early 1880s, Cooke, of Weetwood Hall, Leeds, was producing 40 different lithograph subjects each year with the help of French artist and former watercolorist to Napoleon III, Jean Faustin Betbeder.

These stylish calendars, which might properly be termed works of art, adorned the walls of many a home for more than just one year.

National Library of Ireland

In 1932, artist Ernest Forbes, whose series of Shemus Cartoons is held by the National Library of Ireland, spotted the portrait of Bianconi’s dusky curls and peacock’s feather hat on the wall of the Star Inn Coaching House at Kilham in Yorkshire.

How the Bianconi calendar ended up behind a framed photograph at an auction in Wexford remains to be seen. It is a matter of speculation if the two are connected.

If anyone can throw light on the unidentified image, the O’Donohoe archive would love to learn more.”

Anyone with more information on the Bianconi portrait, the Castleisland connection or the circumstances of its discovery in Wexford can access the site at:

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