Curator's Choice Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane houses the foremost public collection of contemporary art in Ireland; the gallery also has a dynamic temporary exhibitions programme often encompassing the permanent collection. Tue, 23 Oct 2018 23:46:40 +0000 Point Blank en-gb Men of the West Men of the West by Sean Keating  Ruth Keating Collections Intern
Nationalism was the driving force behind much of Sean Keating’s most important works.  Keating viewed Ireland’s struggle to forge a new identity around the time of the 1916 Easter Rising and the emergence of the Irish Free State as an opportunity to lead a revival in Irish nationalism through his painting.  He was an idealist and used defiant and often subversive imagery to convey the pride he felt in the traditional customs of the Irish peasant and his sorrow at their decline.

Much influenced by mentor and friend William Orpen, Keating studied at Dublin Municipal School of Art.  Orpen’s teaching methods were held in high esteem and under his tutelage; Keating won the Taylor Gold Medal in 1915.  He was awarded fifty pounds which allowed him to go to England to work under Orpen as a studio assistant. When conscription was enforced in Britain later that year, Sean Keating decided to return to Ireland to escape from a war that he did not believe in and to paint the people of Aran.  He and many other artists and writers felt that Ireland needed to commit to the expression of its Gaelic heritage and to find an authentic aesthetic to fit this identity. 

Keating travelled to Aran with artist and friend Harry Clarke and was profoundly affected by the landscape and lifestyle of the people he found there.  Living in close communities, he considered the people of the west to be strong, hardworking and relatively untouched by political turmoil.  He felt that these were the true Gaels, still in touch with the language and traditions of their Celtic past.

It was during this same year, 1915 that Sean Keating began work of one of his most significant early works, Men of the West.  The painting illustrates three men dressed in Aran clothing, baggy woollen trousers and waistcoats with the colourful crios belt.  Keating himself features on the left of the scene.  His brother Joe Hannan Keating is painted twice in the work, once in the middle in profile and again on the right with his back turned. Joe was a member of the Irish Volunteers and possibly of the IRB[1].  His face is partially obscured to conceal his identity as Joe was more politically active that his artist brother.  Joe is portrayed holding a rifle while the artist depicts himself in the role of idealist, with the tricolour resting on his right shoulder.  Keating’s choice of model in his brother and his role as a nationalist separatist contributes to the insurgent flavour of the work.

Although the reference to Aran stands, the title Men of the West harks also to Ireland’s contribution to the American Civil War and the men in the painting bear a resemblance to the cowboys from America’s Wild West[2].  The painting speaks of the perceived need for violence with the men standing as revolutionary icons, unafraid to fight.  Indeed their iconic status was potent as Keating produced limited edition prints of the work in 1919 in order to raise money for families affected by the political struggle.  Within a year the authorities considered the distribution of the poster dissident and destroyed any remaining copies, thus bolstering its infamy.


[1] Eimear O’Connor, Sean Keating Art, Politics and Building the Irish Nation, Irish Academic Press 2013, page 49.

[2] Ibid, page 123.

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:00 +0000 Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:00 +0000 Mon, 03 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000
The Maggie Man The Maggie Man by Jack B. Yeats    Ruth Keating Collections Intern
The oil paintings of Jack B. Yeats are the subject of much writing. His style of painting lively vibrant landscapes and sparkling dashes of light is inimitable.  The mobile nature of Yeats’ oils allowed him to truly capture a sense of the here and now.  His urgency freeze frames the moment. Yeats worked quickly, often laying paint on the canvas with palette knife in thick twisted knots of colour.

Discussion on Jack B. Yeats’ influence on Irish art often focuses on his later works, but before this period of oil painting he had supported himself for many years by contributing illustrations to magazines.  Yeats developed his style drawing race horses alongside hilarious and grotesque characters he observed in London society. His quick wit and nimble style earned him a reputation as an accomplished illustrator.  

Drawing on memories of his own childhood in Sligo, in 1912 Yeats published Life in the West of Ireland, a collection of line drawings as well as reproductions of recent oils. He was inspired by the travelling circuses and county fairs that he witnessed as a boy, as well as ordinary people living simple lives the villages of Ireland.  The book features drawings of festive moments such as The Circus Procession in the Town and The Horse Fair of Ballinasloe, as well as documenting the sanguinity of bonfire night or the serious demeanours of the men, as in The Tinker and A Man With a Broken Head.  There also features an early incarnation of The Maggie Man.  A coloured drawing entitled Poor Maggie shows the scene at a fair ground attraction. Thought to bring good fortune if hit, batons are thrown at a dummy dressed in red, the Maggie (from the Irish ‘gleas magaidh’ or ‘object of ridicule’).  The drawing shows a dramatic scene, as the Maggie man, charged with collecting the batons afterwards, is threatened with the stick himself.

In the oil painting The Maggie Man, the artist uses short, loaded brushstrokes and solid colours which were characteristic of his work at the time.  Yeats spent much of his youth creating miniature theatre sets and cut-out characters with which he enacted plays and skits to amuse his siblings.  The Maggie man is heavily outlined, creating a strong silhouette and the red of his waistcoat links him to the Maggie in the background.  The appeal of this painting for me lies in the humanity of the Maggie Man.  Yeats’ fascination with the people he met in villages documents archetypes that feel familiar and yet are singular in their character.  They are part of the fabric of the Irish countryside. We witness this stoical worker as he gathers the last stick.  His face is doleful and slightly bewildered as he stands barefoot and looks reproachfully over his shoulder.  There is a feeling of having arrived just after an event, perhaps the scene of violence foreshadowed in Poor Maggie.  Yeats was a master of the dramatic and the mundane, finding magic in the everyday and showing us the many faces he remembered from his Sligo boyhood with his grandparents, the Pollexfens.  The Maggie man is himself a figure of derision, his humble posture and soft look compounded by the confident stride of the well dressed sideshow owner in the background.

The subjects that Yeats found in music halls, circuses and racecourses continued to enthral him as he moved further into his more open style with oils.  The figure of the clown or gleas magaidh features many times throughout his career, as in They Come, They Come (1936) and This Grand Conversation was under the Rose (1946).  He returns many times to the fairs and racecourses of his youth, capturing the savage beauty of a horse in motion or the mellifluous throngs of punters in the stands.

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:00 +0000 Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:00 +0000 Mon, 03 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000
Une Jeune Bretonne (A Young Breton Girl) Une Jeune Bretonne by Roderic O'Conor  Ruth Keating Collections Intern
An Irish modernist painter, O’Conor found his true inspiration in the sun dappled meadows and white washed buildings of Brittany.  His studies of Breton girls in regional clothing explore the post Impressionist techniques emerging amongst painters influenced by Paul Gaugin, whilst remaining rooted in tradition. Originally from Roscommon, O’Conor studied at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin but left Ireland in the 1880’s to travel and broaden his artistic horizons. A community of artists working in the Post Impressionist style were present in Brittany from the late 1880’s, and the cafes of Paris were bustling with writers, artists and thinkers intoxicated with the spirit of modernism.  O’Conor imbibed this progressive atmosphere and settled in Pont Aven, Brittany. 

Roderic O’Conor was exposed to the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh in Paris in 1889 and 1890 where they were exhibited at the Salon des Independants. The influence of this painter on his work is evident in the raucous colours and confident brushstrokes of Yellow Landscape, Pont-Aven (1892) and Flowers, bottle and two jugs (c.1891-2). The bold stripes characterised by the Dutch master are present in Roderic O’Conor’s work from the early 1890’s onwards, as he captures the provincial lives of French peasants and their environs.[1]

The paintings O’Conor made of the residents of Pont-Aven are infused with a solemn atmosphere.  The sitters he chose are characterised by their conservative dress and intense dignity.  None exemplify this more than the young girl O’Conor painted in Bretonne (1903) and Une Jeune Bretonne(1903). She sits serene and composed, her figure linked carefully to the background with stripes of green and red upon her cheek.  Although her costume and attitude steep the young Breton in tradition, the approach O’Conor takes in painting her is strikingly modern.  Pulsating colours laid in controlled bands strike the juxtaposition between the stoical manner of the sitter and the turbulent emotion behind the piece.  Her headdress is undone and a black shawl sits over her wide collar indicating that she is in mourning.  Her full lips and rosy complexion display her youth despite her haunted look of weary contemplation.  She is imbued with sadness and her direct gaze is spellbinding.

I have chosen Une Jeune Bretonne because of its hypnotic effects.  Like attending a solemn vigil, sitting with this Breton girl is both an intense and meditative experience.  We can recognise her grief but the behind her enigmatic expression her secrets remain intact. The painting was featured in an exhibition of work by Irish artists organised by Sir Hugh Lane at the London Guildhall in 1904.  Une Jeune Bretonne was exhibited alongside the works of Lavery, Osborne and Orpen.  Roderic O’Conor presented the work to the Hugh Lane Gallery in 1904, a year before Lane began to purchase Impressionist paintings for his collection.

[1] Benington Jonathan, Roderic O’Conor, A Biography with a Catalogue of his Work, Irish Academic Press, pages 51-53.

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:00 +0000 Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:00 +0000 Mon, 03 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000
Louis Le Brocquy (1916-2012) LOUIS LE BROCQUY (1916-2012)

Beloved by the art world and public alike Louis le Brocquy’s oeuvre has made an indelible mark on the identity of Irish modern art.  Le Brocquy was just twenty-four years old when Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane bought his painting, Southern Window, 1939. This acquisition heralded the beginning of a longstanding dialogue between le Brocquy and the gallery, one which was cultivated and expanded upon through further acquisitions as well as several exhibitions dedicated to his singular output (a retrospective held in 1996 as well as three solo shows in 1978, 1992 and 2007).

Le Brocquy was a self-taught artist whose corpus of work is indebted to his study of the Old Masters, in particular, Velázquez and Goya. He also admired Whistler, Manet and Degas.   Although early works underscore his ability to paint in line with the academic tradition he later eschewed the pursuit of verisimilitude in favour of a deeper, psychological exploration of the human condition.  The theme of inescapable human isolation within society is ever-present in his work and is expressed through the isolated figure. In Southern Window one notes the beginnings of this concern. This work was painted in Menton, France in 1939 and was inspired by Edouard Manet's Le Balcon (1868-69; Musée d'Orsay). The theme of isolation is evident once again In Child in a Yard, 1953. The figure of the child in motion is painted in an almost pure pigment which contrasts unnervingly with the dark of the grim surroundings to create a mysterious sense of good and evil, darkness and light, innocence and experience. 

Breathing new life into portraiture Louis le Brocquy’s approach, with its emblematic focus solely on the head, uniquely re-imagined the possibilities and overcame limitations of the genre. The source of inspiration for his portraiture came from an encounter with Polynesian skulls in the Musée de l'Homme, Paris; it was not only their visual appearance that piqued his interest but also their ritualistic importance in providing access for the living to the spirits of their ancestors. Homage to Clonfert, 1965 which is part of his Ancestral Heads series of the 1960s depicts several heads emerging from within a white matrix of painted ground. Spectral and sparse this multilayered painting lyrically captures the complexity of human beings while evoking not only the spirit of the individuals but also a shared past. The heads are depicted collectively in a rigid diagonal grid pattern as they are at the Clonfert Cathedral in Galway, but at the same time they remain isolated from each other. They seem to stand as visual embodiments of the ancient Celtic belief which purports that the head is a magic box in which the spirit resides. The artist noted: enter that box, enter behind the billowing curtain of the face and you have the whole landscape of the spirit.”

The same sparseness and pale white ground to be found in this work is equally present in his piece entitled Isolated Being, 1962 where again le Brocquy lays an emphasis on the psychological in efforts to approach a symbolic representation of humanity. Le Brocquy exquisitely captures the light and energy of the figure, reducing the human form and conjuring a presence more so than a reality. The inconsistency of the paint creates spaces, which reaffirms an idea of transience. The artist notes:Contrary to the generally held view, I think that painting is not in any direct sense a means of communication or a means of self-expression. For me at any rate, it is a groping towards an image. When you are painting you are trying to discover, to uncover, to reveal. I sometimes think of the activity of painting as a kind of archaeology- an archaeology of the spirit.” In these later works le Brocquy has succeeded in making tangible the intangible and potently evoking a sense of the spirit.

]]> (Dr. Margarita Cappock) Mon, 03 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000 Mon, 03 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000 Mon, 03 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000 brocquy_l.jpg
A Peasant Woman A modern classicist Degas lived and worked in Paris. Part of the revolutionary movements in painting championed by the Impressionists, he, like them drew on contemporary life for his paintings. He exhibited in all the Impressionists exhibitions except that of 1882 but unlike their work in with Degas we find no dissolution of form. A superb draughtsman his intensity of observation is apparent in all his work. While most famous for  ballet scenes and horse  racing, all his ubject matter is  imbued with a startling realism.  A Peasant Woman is part of small series of works where he tackles the problems of painting white material against light with its opposing qualities of transparency and opacity. The Breton girl's white headdress is illuminated by the bright sunlight  which pours in through a transparent white curtain. This painting also reveals Degas's pre-occupation with contre-jour, modelling mass against light. The fluency of line assists  his exploration  of form and together with  his innovative use of light and colour, he has created some of the most acute observations of contemporary existence.

]]> (Dr. Margarita Cappock) Mon, 03 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000 Mon, 03 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000 Mon, 03 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000
Untitled No 7 by Agnes Martin Agnes Martin's simplified abstract forms are internationally renowned. She is one of the great exponents of post-painterly abstraction. Greatly influenced by nature and Asian philosophy, her humility and lack of ego breathes through her art. She wants the spectator to experience some of the same feelings when viewing her work that they do when in front of nature. Born in Canada, she lived in New York in the late 1950s and early 60s, where her work rapidly received critical acclaim. In 1968, she moved back to New Mexico where she had lived from 1952 to 1957. The white light of the desert and the rich earth colours permeate her work. Solely about visual perception, with a complete absence of  representational or literary references, this  singular work is realised through a lifetime of   self critical appraisal and a commitment to a timeless  expression. Untitled No 7 was exhibited at ROSC in 1980. It is a superb example of how her work unfolds with the benefit of time. The feeling of sublime the painting engenders is extraordinary given it has emerged from such a  rudimentary composition. The fugitive understanding of such concepts as sense of space and light in painting and their ensuing implications to time give this work its singular meditative quality. Agnes Martin has imbued her work with feelings that are generally aroused when viewing significant form.

]]> (Dr. Margarita Cappock) Sat, 01 Jan 2011 16:54:39 +0000 Sat, 01 Jan 2011 16:54:39 +0000 Wed, 05 Jan 2011 16:54:46 +0000