Thursday, May 14, 2015

A major retrospective of Irish paintings and sculpture

This month The Art of a Nation - an exhibition of some 70 Irish paintings and sculptures can be viewed in the Mall Galleries. This is the biggest retrospective and survey of Irish art held in the UK for some 30+ years.

Showing them the First Fence (1978)
oil on canvas, 183cm x 183cm
Basil Blackshaw RIJA (b. 1932)
It opened yesterday at the Mall Galleries and you can see it every day until 31 May 2015 between 10am to 5pm (it closes at 1pm on the final day).

The exhibition is a survey which covers a span of some 125 years. The artwork comes from the very extensive collections of the Allied Irish Banks and the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. It's been presented in collaboration with the Department of Arts, Heritage and theGaeltacht and the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. is 99.8% owned by the State.  The Crawford Gallery is a public gallery in Cork.

Below you'll see some photos of some of the works.  There's a good range of paintings from different periods and styles of painting.

What I liked about the exhibition is that there was a very distinct sense of it having links to the same cultural heritage with which we are all familiar - and yet being quite distinct and having its own unique identity at the same time.

The nearest analogy I can give is the way American Impressionism is very distinctly American as opposed to French.

Here's an example. Paul Henry (1896 - 1958) apparently studied with Whistler in Paris. Whistler's preference for simplifying subjects and focusing on a range of colour tones in one colour field seems to have had a clear impact on Henry's work. However this is very clearly - at least to me - a painting of Ireland.

Henry is an Irish landscape painter who went on to become one of the founders of the Society of Dublin Painters.  You can see more of his paintings in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.

Lough Altan, County Donegal (c.1930)
oil on canvas, 50 x 59cm
Paul Henry RHA RUA
Here are some paintings and aspects I really liked.

I loved the painting of racehorses by Basil Blackshaw (see top image)!  Such a very Irish theme.....
Blackshaw's painting are very often figurative in form, but with a non-naturalistic palate which rebalances the composition in an expressionist, even abstract, way. His themes are very Irish and often rural; greyhounds, Irish Travellers and the landscape.
Wikipedia - Basil Blackshaw
Basil Blackshaw is a member of the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts.

On the Run, War of Independence (1921)
oil on canvas, 100 x 121cm
Sean Keating PPRHA, HRA
Sean Keating is described as a Political Painter, a Romantic Realist and one of the great Traditionalists of Irish Painting. He studied under Sir William Orpen (who also has a painting in the show) at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. He's renowned for painting several iconic images of the war of independence and the subsequent civil war in Ireland in the 1920s. The above painting is about a period of time when ambushes and reprisals were a common occurrence.

I loved this artwork. It's a photograph of models of fruit and vegetables created out of different coloured toilet paper.  Impressive!

The Luncheon (2002)
photograph of still life made from wet toilet paper, disposable tableware, bin bag tablecloth, real stalks and plastic flies
100 x 181cm
Caroline McCarthy (b. 1971)
These are more paintings in the exhibition. I didn't have the chance to photograph the sculpture as it was still being unwrapped and positioned when I saw a preview - but what I could see of it looked excellent.

Paintings by three female artists
(left) Samoan Scene (c.1923) by Mary Swanzy (1882 - 1978)
(centre) Composition with 3 elements (c1935) by Mainie Jellett (1897 - 1944)
(right) Claddagh Harbour (c.1930) by Lilian Davidson ARHA (1879 - 1954)
I particularly liked the tapestry in the middle
The exhibition also includes some very contemporary work
Contemporary art was in the Threadneedle Space - although some was emphatically on traditional Irish themes
Emphatic colour punctuation on the feature wall in the Threadneedle Space
Note: Art critic and historian Dr. Francis Ruane was enlisted to help shape Allied Irish Banks art collection (from 1970-2011), which numbers more than 3,000 pieces. In 2012, 39 key pieces from the collection were donated to the State, and are now held by the Crawford Art Gallery. The bank continues to run a major loans scheme to public and private organisations throughout Ireland, making significant artworks available for public exhibition. Works are shown in Irish galleries, colleges and bank properties throughout its branch network.

The History of Irish Art

For those who'd like to read more about the history of Irish Art I commend to you....

The incomparable Encyclopedia of Art at (one of my all-time favourite websites!). I've used their references for all the links in the artist's names. This is their:
Regarding our articles on Irish art, we have in addition consulted a wide range of hard-copy reference works, of which the following have been most prominent.
(1) Dictionary of Irish Artists, Vols I and II, Walter Strickland (Dublin & London, 1913).
(2) Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century, Theo Snoddy (Dublin, 2006).
(3) Ireland's Painters: 1600-1940, Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin (Yale University 2002).
(4) Irish Art: 1830-1990, Brian Fallon (Belfast, 1994).
(5) Irish Art: A Concise History, Bruce Arnold (London, 2002).We would like to take this opportunity of acknowledging the valuable data and scholarship of these works of reference, without which no serious study of Irish fine art is possible.
I also commend the Crawford Collection's thematic pages to you.

You can also read a review of the exhibition in The Guardian - Paint the town green: the hidden history of Irish art

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I'm so jealous... I would love to see this exhibition. I especially love Basil Blackshaw's paintings. By chance I saw one of his paintings in my framers in Dublin (it had been bought privately at auction and was being reframed). I just couldn't take my eyes of it. It was stunning. Enjoy!


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