Artists in the Collection

Percy French

Born 1854, Roscommon, Ireland
Died 1920, Formby, England

William Percy French was born in 1854 at Cloonyquin House, County Roscommon. He was the second son of landowner Christopher French and his wife Susan Emma (nee Percy).

He was educated in Ireland and England. In 1872 he began an engineer­ing degree at Trinity College, Dublin. There he developed his talent for songwriting. Percy French is perhaps best known as a writer of humorous songs, but he was active also as an editor, concert promoter, landscape painter, sketch writer, poet, banjo player, and stage entertainer.

He qualified as a Civil Engineer but continued to develop his interest in music, drama, and especially painting which he then considered to be his true vocation. When later became well-known, his paintings from this time were sought after. Many depicting the Irish landscape but others provide a record of his travels in Switzerland, Canada, the USA and the West Indies. In 1887 French became the editor of a comic weekly magazine in Dublin, The Jarvey, and he promoted a series of concerts and advertised his many comic songs under the title of The Jarvey Concert Company. When The Jarvey failed after two years, French turned to the stage full time. He wrote, produced and played the major part in the revue Dublin up to Date. He also wrote the libretto for two comic operas and he played the leading role in both works. In 1891, his wife, Ettie died in childbirth, just a year and a day after their marriage, and their baby daughter died some days later. In 1894 he married Helen Sheldon, an English chorus girl. They had three daughters.

From 1900 he toured theatres and music halls throughout Britain and in 1910 he and Dr. W. Houston Collisson, his friend and musical collaborator, successfully toured Canada, east coast USA, and the West Indies. French was now based in London but performed at the holiday resorts and towns of Ireland each year and occasionally the ski resorts of Switzerland.

In 1916 he was dragged by a train and injured and his health subsequently deteriorated. Against his family’s advice he continued to tour. In the winter of 1920 he began a tour of Scotland but while performing in Glasgow he took ill; he went to the home of his cousin in Formby, Lancashire and some days later died from pneumonia on 24 January 1920, aged 65.