seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Thomas Bodkin, Art Historian & Collector

Professor Thomas Patrick Bodkin, lawyer, art historian, art collector and curator, is born in Dublin on July 21, 1887. He serves as Director of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin from 1927 to 1935 and founding Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham, England from 1935 until 1952, where he acquires the nucleus of the collection described by The Observer as “the last great art collection of the twentieth century.”

Bodkin is the eldest son of Matthias McDonnell Bodkin, a nationalist journalist, judge and Member of Parliament. Graduating from the Royal University of Ireland in 1908 he practises law from 1911 until 1916 while collecting art privately, influenced by his uncle Sir Hugh Lane. With the death of Lane in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, Bodkin is charged with ensuring that Lane’s collection of art is displayed in Dublin, a dispute that would only finally be settled in 1957 and about which Bodkin is to write Hugh Lane and his Pictures in 1932.

Bodkin leaves the legal profession in 1916 to become a Governor of the National Gallery of Ireland, being appointed Director in 1927. He also serves in 1926 on the committee that commissions the design of the new coinage of the Republic of Ireland from Percy Metcalfe.

In 1935 Bodkin leaves Ireland upon being appointed Director of the newly established Barber Institute of Fine Arts and Barber Professor of Fine Art at the University of Birmingham. The funds available to the Barber Institute for the purchase of new works compare favourably even to some national museums and Bodkin is able to make a string of exceptional purchases in the depressed art market around the time of World War II. The collection that in 1935 numbers just seven works, by 1939 holds major pieces such as Tintoretto‘s Portrait of a Youth (1554), Simone Martini‘s St. John the Evangelist (1320), Nicolas Poussin‘s Tancred and Erminia (1634) and James Abbott McNeill Whistler‘s Symphony in White No. III (1867). Bodkin retires in 1952 but retains control over acquisitions until 1959. His successor as Director and Professor, Ellis Waterhouse, wistfully refers to Bodkin’s wayward later purchases as “Acts of Bod.”

Bodkin is also an active broadcaster and author, publishing personal reminiscences and translations of modern French poetry as well as works of art history and criticism. In particular, his The Approach to Painting (1927), an introduction for a popular audience, runs through many editions over the succeeding thirty years.

A few years before his death Bodkin appears on the BBC panel show Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? identifying curiosities from around the world, along with museum curator Hugh Shortt and archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler.

Bodkin is awarded the Civil Division of the Order of St. Gregory the Great for services to his church. A bust of Bodkin, previously exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1958, is donated to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts by its sculptor, Sir Charles Wheeler, President of the Royal Academy and a personal friend of Bodkin’s, on the latter’s death.

Bodkin is the subject of This Is Your Life in March 1960 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC’s Costa Green Studios in Birmingham.

Thomas Bodkin dies in Birmingham, England on April 24, 1961. His remains are interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

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Birth of Brian Coffey, Poet & Publisher

Brian Coffey, Irish poet and publisher, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on June 8, 1905. His work is informed by his Catholicism and by his background in science and philosophy, and his connection to surrealism. For these reasons, he is seen as being closer to an intellectual European Catholic tradition than to mainstream Irish Catholic culture.

Coffey attends the Mount St. Benedict boarding school in Gorey, County Wexford from 1917 to 1919 and then Clongowes Wood College, in Clane, County Kildare from 1919 until 1922. In 1923, he goes to France to study for the Bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies at the Institution St. Vincent, Senlis, Oise. While still at college, Coffey begins writing poetry. He publishes his first poems in University College Dublin‘s The National Student under the pseudonym Coeuvre.

In the early 1930s, Coffey moves to Paris where he studies Physical Chemistry under Jean Baptiste Perrin, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. He completes these studies in 1933, and his Three Poems is printed in Paris by Jeanette Monnier that same year. In 1934 he enters the Institut Catholique de Paris to work with the noted French philosopher Jacques Maritain, taking his licentiate examination in 1936. He then moves to London for a time and contributes reviews and a poem to T.S. Eliot‘s The Criterion magazine. He returns to Paris in 1937 as an exchange student to work on his doctoral thesis on the idea of order in the work of Thomas Aquinas. In 1938, Coffey’s second volume of poetry, Third Person, is published by George Reavey‘s Europa Press.

During the war, Coffey teaches in schools in London and Yorkshire, leaving his young family in Dublin. After the war, he returns to Paris and completes his doctoral thesis. The family then moves so that Coffey can take up a teaching post at the Jesuit Saint Louis University.

By the early 1950s, Coffey becomes uncomfortable for a number of reasons, including the nature of his work, his distance from Ireland and the pressures that inevitably come to bear on an academic who has previously associated with well-known left-wing writers in Paris. For these reasons, he resigns in 1952.

In 1952, Coffey returns to live in London and, from 1973, Southampton. He begins again to publish his poetry and translations, mainly of French poetry. The first work in English to appear after this period of silence is Missouri Sequence, apparently begun in St. Louis but first appearing in the University Review, later known as the Irish University Review, in 1962.

Over the next decade or so, he publishes regularly in the University Review. He also sets up his own publishing enterprise, Advent Press, which publishes work by himself and by younger writers he wants to support.

Brian Coffey dies at the age of 89 on April 14, 1995, and is buried in Southampton, England.