seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Northern Irish Artist Basil Blackshaw

Basil Blackshaw, Northern Irish artist, dies at the age of 83 on May 2, 2016. He is best known for his paintings of dogs, horses, landscapes and people and is regarded as one of the country’s most talented artists.

Blackshaw is born in 1932 in Glengormley, County Antrim, Northern Ireland and raised in Boardmills in Lisburn, County Down. He attends Methodist College Belfast and studies at Belfast College of Art (1948–1951). In 1951 he is awarded a scholarship to study in Paris by the Committee for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts.

Blackshaw’s home and studio is in County Antrim by Lough Neagh. He becomes well known for his country scenes including landscapes, farm buildings and horses, painted in an expressionist style.

Blackshaw is initially acclaimed for his mastery of traditional approaches to painting. He continues to develop as an artist, becoming most highly regarded for his very loose gestural application of paint and a very distinctive and subtle use of colour. His paintings of such sports as horse racing and boxing make him particularly popular, but he is also a talented portrait painter.

Blackshaw’s paintings are often figurative in form, but with a non-naturalistic palette which re-balances the composition in an expressionist, even abstract, way. His themes are very Irish and often rural; greyhounds, Irish Travellers, and the landscape. He also produces portraits and designs posters for Derry‘s Field Day Theatre Company.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland organises a major retrospective of Blackshaw’s work in 1995, which travels from Belfast to Dublin, Cork and many galleries in the United States. In 2001 he receives the GlenDimplex Award for a Sustained Contribution to the Visual Arts in Ireland. The Ulster Museum holds a major exhibition of his work in 2002 and a major book is published by Eamonn Mallie on the artist in 2003.

For a 2005 exhibition at the Fenton Gallery in Cork, Blackshaw works exclusively over a period of 20 months creating a dramatic collection of fifteen new paintings. His choice of arguably mundane subjects, The Studio Door, Car, Wall, Six Trees, express both an engagement with tradition and a watchful detachment.

In 2006 Blackshaw’s work is exhibited at the Irish College in Paris (French: Centre Culturel Irlandais).

Blackshaw is elected as an associate of The Royal Ulster Academy of Arts in 1977 and elected an Academician in 1981. Dublin’s Royal Hibernian Academy describes him as “one of Ireland’s greatest artists” who was “lauded by the art world and his fellow painters.”

Basil Blackshaw dies on May 2, 2016. Father to well-known artist Anya Waterworth, he is buried in a wicker coffin in a humanist funeral, the ceremony ending to Bob Dylan‘s “Mr. Tambourine Man” at Roselawn Cemetery on the outskirts of Belfast. More than 100 mourners come to pay their respects. Among them are artists Jack Pakenham and Neil Shawcross, actor Stephen Rea and boxing legend Barry McGuigan.


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Birth of Mary Swanzy, Landscape & Genre Artist

Mary Swanzy, Irish landscape and genre artist, is born in Dublin on February 15, 1882. Noted for her eclectic style, she paints in many styles including cubism, futurism, fauvism, and orphism, she is one of Ireland’s first abstract painters.

Swanzy is the second of three daughters of Sir Henry Rosborough Swanzy, an eye surgeon, and his wife Mary (née Denham). She attends Alexandra College, Earlsfort Terrace, a finishing school at the Lycée in Versailles, France, and a day school in Freiburg, Germany. This education means that she is fluent in French and German. She goes on to take art classes at Mary Manning‘s studio, under the direction of John Butler Yeats. Manning encourages her to study modelling with John Hughes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.

Living within walking distance of the National Gallery of Ireland, she spends a lot of time studying and copying the great masters. Her first exhibition is with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1905 with Portrait of a child, continuing to exhibit portraits every year until 1910. In 1905 she goes to Paris and works at the Académie Delécluse, an atelier-style art school. She goes on to attend the studio of Antonio de La Gándara in 1906, and takes classes at Académie de la Grande Chaumière and Académie Colarossi. While in Paris she is exposed to the works of Gauguin, Matisse, and Picasso, which make a lasting impression on her.

On her return to Dublin, Swanzy paints portraits and genre scenes and holds her first show at Mill’s Hall, Merrion Row in 1913. She holds another show there in 1919, where she exhibits nearly 50 pieces. This exhibition is reviewed by Sarah Purser who notes the lack of melancholy and light optimism in Swanzy’s Irish landscapes. Swanzy paints in a number of styles, often reflecting the major art developments in Paris.

After the deaths of her parents, she is financially independent and can travel, spending her time between Dublin and Saint-Tropez during World War I while continuing to paint. She also exhibits with the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1914 and 1916, being elected to the committee in 1920. While visiting her sister who is involved with the Protestant relief mission in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, she paints landscapes, village life, and peasant scenes. These works are shown in the autumn of 1921 in the Dublin Painters’ Gallery with six other artists including Jack Butler Yeats, Paul Henry, and Clare Marsh with whom she shares a studio.

Swanzy begins to travel to more exotic countries from the 1920s, Honolulu around 1923, and later Samoa. As a result, she paints local tropical flowers, trees, and native women, with a palette and style similar to that of Fauvism. She stays for a time in Santa Barbara, California, working in a local studio and exhibiting some of her Samoan work at the Santa Barbara Arts Club Gallery. She returns to Ireland in February 1925 and exhibits three of her Samoan paints at the RHA, and 14 at her one-woman show in the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris in October 1925. Gertrude Stein writes her to congratulate her on her Paris exhibition.

In the mid 1920s Swanzy settles in Blackheath, London, making regular trips to Dublin and abroad. In 1932 Purser holds an exhibition of Swanzy’s work for invited guests in her house. At this time her painting is influenced by orphism and is reviewed positively. Her work becomes more allegorical in later years, with The message in the Hugh Lane Gallery demonstrating this. During World War II she stays with her sister in Coolock for three years. In 1943, she holds a one-woman show at the Dublin Painters’ Gallery, and is also featured at the first Irish Exhibition of Living Art. She is exhibited at St. George’s Gallery, London in 1946 along with Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, and William Scott.

Swanzy is made an honorary member of the RHA in 1949, showing with them in 1950 and 1951. She does not exhibit in Ireland for a number of years, but the Hugh Lane Gallery holds a major retrospective of her work in 1968. Following this she holds two one-woman shows at the Dawson Gallery in 1974 and 1976. In 1975 she is featured at the Cork ROSC art exhibition and resumes showing with the RHA. She continues to paint until her death at her home in London on July 7, 1978.

In 1982 the Taylor Galleries holds an exhibition to mark the centenary of Swanzy’s birth. More recently she is featured in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) 2013 exhibition Analysing Cubism. From October 2018-February 2019, also in IMMA, she is the subject of the solo exhibition Mary Swanzy Voyages.

(Pictured: Sunlit Landscape, oil-on-canvas, by Mary Swanzy)