The forgotten life & times of John Mulvany
by Andrew Shilling
Jun 27, 2013 | 4501 views | 1 1 comments | 340 340 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John Mulvany (Photo Credit: Anne Weber)
John Mulvany (Photo Credit: Anne Weber)
“Battle of Aughrim” (1885)
“Battle of Aughrim” (1885)
"Back to the Wigwam" 1884
"Back to the Wigwam" 1884
Irish American painter John Mulvany emigrated to the United States during the Great Famine of 1845, leaving his home in Moynalty, County Meath in Northeastern Ireland, and changing the way we look at art and our own history here in America.

He is best known for his work “Custer’s Last Rally” (1881), his paintings of the American Civil War, and depiction of the early days on the open prairies of the West.

However, much of his work was lost over the years, according to Niamh O’Sullivan, professor emeritus of Visual Culture at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin.

“He had huge coverage in the American press and was written up in the most enthusiastic of ways,” said O’Sullivan, who is shocked that he has become such a forgotten figure over the last century. “What interests me is that he’s both quintessentially Irish and quintessentially American and displays a combination of the two.”

O’Sullivan has studied the works of this forgotten icon, whose paintings like “The Preliminary Trial of a Horsethief” (1876), “Battle of Aughrim” (1885) and “Portrait of Robert Emmet” (1897) have been lost in the cobwebs of American history.

According to O’Sullivan, who has traveled to the states several times in search of his work and information about the painter, Mulvany was lost in a puzzle of Irish-American folklore after he was allegedly assassinated for getting involved with a mob-like crowd in the Irish underground in 1906.

“Because he died under such harsh conditions, he was forgotten,” she believes. “There was nobody to keep his reputation after his death.”

Today, O’Sullivan says some of his paintings might start to emerge throughout the neighborhoods of North Brooklyn where he did much of his work in the late 1800’s.

“A lot of these artists are being rediscovered now,” O’Sullivan said. “These are definitely paintings of one of the most important artists of his generation.”

While currently working on a book about Mulvany’s life and impact on the art world, which she says will be roughly two years in the making, O’Sullivan is reaching out to anyone who knows the whereabouts of his lost artwork in hopes of reclaiming a piece of his forgotten past.

“He was a phenomenon in his time,” she said.

Email O’Sullivan at ( with any information.

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