John Hickey was born in Dublin on 7th Nov 1751, the son of a Capel Street confectioner. As a young boy, he worked under a local carver before moving to England in 1776 and entering the Royal Academy Schools. From 1777 he exhibited regularly at the Academy. In 1778 he won the Academy's Gold Medal with a relief representing the Massacre of the Innocents (sold London, Christie's, 15 March 1798). His portrait of Sarah Siddons as 'Cassandra' is a finely carved 730 millimetre high marble statuette, unusual at the time in England for its small scale. (1) Hickey's marble portrait busts include his champion Edmund Burke (1785) and George Thicknesse (1791) Appointed Sculptor to the Prince of Wales (later George IV) in 1786, he produced for the Grand Staircase at London's Carlton House (since destroyed) a pair of plaster figures of Atlas and Time supporting a clock, the model for which (untraced) he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1788. Hickey's finest work was probably his red and white marble monument to David La Touche of Delgany, Co. Wicklow, a five-figure group comprising three heroic mourning figures bound by swathes of drapery supporting a sarcophagus surmounted by a draped urn. Above, a pediment supports a statue of the deceased in contemporary dress, flanked by a giant cornucopia and reclining female figure representing Commerce. His most ambitious work in England, the marble monument to Elizabeth Hawkins and her Family (1782) follows the fashion of John Bacon. ) Edmund Burke was enthusiastic in promoting Hickey and secured for him the commission for the monument to David Garrick in Westminster Abbey, London; his second choice was Thomas Banks. Hickey died on 12th January 1795 before work could begin. The monument was executed by Henry Webber (1754-1826).
John's younger brother was the artist Thomas Hickey (1753 - 1816) who became well known for his paintings of 18th century India. A number of these, such as "Indian bibi Jemdanee" (Calcutta, 1787) are held by the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. Between February 1782 and January 1791, Thomas Hickey spent much of his time working as official artist to Lord McCartney in India. Until the middle of the 18th century, there were practically no visual records of the people of India. Those artists who made it to the sub-continent tended to focus on portraits of the rich and famous, or pictures of imperial interest commissioned by the East India Company. However, there were some, both professional and amateur artists, who applied their talents to depicting 'Indian India' and its exotic people - especially the native women. Thomas Hickey was amongst these few who captured the essence of these women, as with his charming portrait of Jemdanee, the young Bengali Muslim bibi beloved of his kinsman William Hickey, an attorney and famous socialite of Calcutta in the 1790s. About her, William Hickey noted in his memoirs that "she lived with me [and was] respected and admired by all my friends for her extraordinary sprightliness and good humour as gentle and affectionately attached a girl as ever man was blessed with".
Thomas Hickey joined Lord Macartney's embassy to China from 1792 to 1794, during which he painted several images of the Far East. He returned to Ireland shortly after the death of his brother John in January 1796, "not overburdened with riches". In 1797, he was commissioned by Dr. Robert Emmet, State Physician for Ireland, to paint a portrait of the doctor's son, Robert, and daughter, Mary. The son went on to become the patriot Robert Emmet who gave his life for Ireland in 1803. However, in 1798, Thomas Hickey was drawn back to India and he was the only portrait painter on the spot when the Fourth Mysore War ended in 1799. He prudently planned a series of seven historical paintings. In preparation, between June 1799 and November 1801, he made at least 55 chalk drawings of the principal Indian and British participants in the recent conflict, including Allan, Beatson, Baird, the young Krishnaraja Wadeyar III and Purniya. His subsequent works included portraits of Colonel Mackenzie, the diarist William Hickey; Captain William Kirkpatrick; Thomas Graham of Kinross; Tipu's Chief Minister, Purniya; Lt.Col William Kirkpatrick and a wonderful series of portrait drawings of British Officers and the sons and ministers of Tipu, drawn at Seringapatam and Madras in 1799 and 1800. From these portraits, Hickey intended to paint a series of seven History paintings related to the Mysore campaign, but these were never executed.
(1) The piece was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1786. Formerly part of the Cyril Humphries collection, it was sold on 11th January 1995 by Sotheby's of New York.