William Mulready, a genre painter, was the son of a leather breeches maker. He married Elizabeth Varley, a landscape painter and sister of the landscape and architectural watercolourist John Varley. However, they later separated. They had four sons. The eldest, Paul Augustus (1805-1864), was the father of the painter Augustus Edwin Mulready. William (1805-1878) and Michael (1807-1889) were also painters.
Mulready studied at the R.A. Schools. He initially began to paint historical genre and landscapes but then turned to genre scenes inspired by David Wilkie and Dutch seventeenth century masters such as Adriaen van Ostade and Pieter de Hooch, e.g. The Fight Interrupted (exh. R.A. 1816), which won him critical acclaim. Many of his later works concern the subject of childhood and education.
Later he adopted a white ground and more luminous palette, creating a precedent for the technique of the later Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In 1848, the year of the founding of the PRB, a retrospective exhibition of the work of Mulready was held at the Society of Arts. He also taught, painted theatrical scenery and worked as an illustrator. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, British Institution and Society of British Artists between 1804 and 1862. In 1815 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, becoming a full member in the following year.
Mulready's work was admired by John Ruskin for its level of finish, in contrast to that of JW. In 1887-9, possibly whilst preparing his Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London, 1890, JW makes reference to Ruskin's admiration for Mulready in volume one of Modern Painters, possibly with a satirical aim in mind (#06760).
Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Wood, Christopher, Dictionary of Victorian Painters, Woodbridge, 1971; Stephens, F. G., Masterpieces of Mulready: Memorials of W. Mulready, London, 1867; Dafforne, J., Pictures by William Mulready R.A., London, 1872; Heleniak, K. M., William Mulready, New Haven and London, 1980; Pointon, Marcia, 'Mulready', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.groveart.com (accessed 14 February 2003).